The brain remains the most complex and unknown organ in the human body. The way that it malfunctions causes some of the most interesting phenomena science. In this feature each week I will attempt to look at a particular neurophysiological condition or case study.
Leborgne and Lelong
As with any story it is best to start at the beginning. Which is why for this first post, on Neuroscience cases, I will take a look at two of the oldest neuropsychology case studies.
Leborgne and Lelong were both patients of Paul Broca (1824-1880) a noted French physician and anatomist. Broca and his discovery shaped the
knowledge of the science at a time when the consensus was divided. At the start of the 19th century the research of Jean Pierre Flourens in animals had stated that localisation of brain function did not exist and this was accepted by most researchers. However, there were those that challenged this idea. One in particular was Jean-Baptiste Bouillaud, who asserted that aphasias (language disorders) could only occur after lesions to the frontal lobes. His son-in-law and researcher Ernest Aubertin supported his views and challenged Broca to find an aphasic patient without a lesion in the frontal cortex. If he did, Aubertin vowed to renounce his views.
Broca was intrigued by this challenge. It was not long after this that he encountered a man named Leborgne. Leborgne appeared perfectly healthy, but unable to speak, except for one syllable, “Tan” (which became his nick name). He had been hospitalised due to this condition at the age of 21. However, after ten years paralysis had spread through his body leaving him bed ridden. 6 days after Broca met him he died. Following this Broca inspected his brain and found he found a lesion “capable of holding a chicken egg, and filled with serous fluid” in the frontal lobe of the left hemisphere. Broca’s presentation of this data was the first categorical proof of localisation of function in the brain, supporting Aubertin’s assertion.
After this Broca studied another individual with aphasia, Lelong. Lelong was an 84 year old man who had suffered a stroke and could only say 5 words, ‘oui’, ‘non’, ‘toi’, ‘toujours’ and ‘Lelo’ (meaning, ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘always’, a mispronunciation of ‘trois’ or three used to represent any number, and a mispronunciation of his own name). After his death Broca found a region in the same region of the brain as Leborgne. Broca went on to become one of the main supporters of the localisation theory and the region where lesions were discovered in the brains of Leborgne and Lelong became Broca’s Area.
Whilst these studies may have occurred about 150 years ago the brains of Leborgne and Lelong were preserved and studies with modern technology have given an intersting insight into what caused the plight of these two individuals. The following MRI images were taken of their brains in 2007:
Pierre Paul Broca (1861). Loss of Speech, Chronic Softening and Partial Destruction of the Anterior Left Lobe of the Brain. Bulletin de la Société Anthropologique, 2, 235-238
Dronkers et al (2007). Paul Broca’s historic cases: high resolution MR imaging of the brains of Leborgne and Lelong. Brain. 130 (5): 1432-1441