Louis Pierre Gratiolet (1815-1865) and His Contribution to the Study of Cerebral Convolutions in Primates


Louis Pierre Gratiolet (1815-1865) was one of the first modern anatomists to pay attention to cerebral convolutions. Born in Sainte-Foy-la-Grande (Gironde), he moved to Paris in 1834 to study medicine, as well as comparative anatomy under Henri de Blainville (1777-1850). In 1842, he accepted de Blainville’s offer to become his assistant at the Muséum dhistoire naturelle and progressively abandoned medicine for comparative anatomy. He undertook a detailed study of brains of human and nonhuman primates and soon realized that the organizational pattern of cerebral convolutions was so predictable that it could serve as a criterion to classify primate groups. He noted that only the deepest sulci exist in lower primate forms, while the complexity of cortical folding increases markedly in great apes and humans. Gratiolet provided the first cogent description of the lobular organization of primate cerebral hemispheres. He saw the insula as a central lobe around which revolved the frontal, parietal, temporal (temporo-sphenoidal) and occipital lobes. He correctly identified most gyri and sulci on all brain surfaces, introduced the term plis de passage for some interconnecting gyri, and provided the first description of the optic radiations. In the early 1860s, Gratiolet fought a highly publicized battle against Paul Broca (1824-1880) on the relationship between brain and intelligence. Gratiolet agreed that the brain was most likely the seat of intelligence, but he considered human cognition far too subtle to have any direct relationship with brain size. He argued that a detailed study of the human brain architecture would be more profitable than Brocas vain speculations on the relationship between brain weight and intelligence, which he considered a monolithic entity. Despite remarkable scientific achievements and a unique teaching capacity, Gratiolet was unable to secure any academic position until three years before his sudden death in Paris at age 49.

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Parent, A. (2014) Louis Pierre Gratiolet (1815-1865) and His Contribution to the Study of Cerebral Convolutions in Primates. Neuroscience and Medicine, 5, 1-8. doi: 10.4236/nm.2014.51001.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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