Duchenne de Boulogne’s Research in Neurology

Duchenne de Boulogne, Facial expressions triggered by electric stimulation

Duchenne de Boulogne, Facial expressions triggered by electric stimulation

On September 17, 1806French neurologist Duchenne de Boulogne was born. Duchenne de Boulogne revived Galvani‘s research and greatly advanced the science of electrophysiology. The era of modern neurology developed from Duchenne‘s understanding of neural pathways and his diagnostic innovations including deep tissue biopsy, nerve conduction tests (NCS), and clinical photography. He was first to describe several nervous and muscular disorders and, in developing medical treatment for them, created electrodiagnosis and electrotherapy.

Guillaume-Benjamin Duchenne enrolled at the University of Douai where he received his Baccalauréat at the age of 19. He further educated himself by working with several distinguished Paris physicians including René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laënnec and Baron Guillaume Dupuytren.

During the 1830s, Duchenne started to experiment with the so called therapeutic “électropuncture”, a method by which electric shock was administered beneath the skin with sharp electrodes to stimulate the muscles. During the 1840s, Duchenne moved to Paris and continued his research there. During that period, Duchenne developed a technique of muscle stimulation that used faradic shock on the surface of the skin, which he called “électrisation localisée”. He was able to publish these experiments in his work, On Localized Electrization and its Application to Pathology and Therapy. One of Duchenne’s most relevant works, The Mechanism of Human Physiognomy, was highly discussed by temporary scientists. Duchenne summarized his results of nearly 20 years of study in his influential work Physiology of Movements.

Duchenne de Boulogne became known as one of the developers of electro-physiology and electro-therapeutics. He was able to show that smiles resulting from true happiness not only utilize the muscles of the mouth but also those of the eyes: such “genuine” smiles are known as Duchenne smiles in his honor. Further, Duchenne is credited with the discovery of Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

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