Paul Broca

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Pierre Paul Broca[1][2] (28 June 1824 – 9 July 1880) was a French physician, anatomist, and anthropologist. He was born in Sainte-Foy-la-Grande, Gironde. He is best known for his research on Broca's area, a region of the frontal lobe that has been named after him.


Education and research

Broca's early scientific works dealt with the histology of cartilage and bone, but he also studied cancer pathology, the treatment of aneurysms, and infant mortality. One of his major concerns was the comparative anatomy of the brain. His celebrated paper refers to many animal species. As a neuroanatomist he made important contributions to the understanding of the limbic system and rhinencephalon. Olfaction was for him a sign of animality. His research on the localization of speech led to entirely new research into the lateralization of brain function. He wrote extensively on biological evolution, then known as transformism in France (the term was also adopted in English at the time but is today used little in either language).

Speech research

Broca is most famous for his discovery of the speech production center of the brain located in the ventroposterior region of the frontal lobes (now known as Broca's area). He arrived at this discovery by studying the brains of aphasic patients. His first patient in the Bicêtre Hospital was Leborgne, nicknamed "Tan" due to his inability to clearly speak any words other than "tan".

In 1861, through post-mortem autopsy, Broca determined that Tan had a lesion caused by syphilis in the left cerebral hemisphere. This lesion was determined to cover the area of the brain important for speech production, affecting syntactic skills of patients. (Although history credits this discovery to Broca, another French neurologist, Marc Dax, made similar observations a generation earlier.) Today the brains of many of Broca's aphasic patients are still preserved in the Musée Dupuytren, and his collection of casts in the Musée d'Anatomie Delmas-Orfila-Rouvière. Broca presented his findings on the localisation of language at the 1868 British Association meeting in Norwich, chaired by Joseph Dalton Hooker, and the subsequent discussions included Hughlings Jackson.

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