, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 386-393
Date: 21 Nov 2008

History of the Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve: From Galen to Lahey

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During the second century A.D., Galen described a nerve that came from the brain on each side of the neck, went down toward the heart, and then reversed course and ascended to the larynx and caused the vocal cords to open. He called these “reversivi” (or recurrent nerves) and stated that he was the first to discover “these wonderful things.” Demonstrating before the elders of Rome, he showed that cutting the recurrent laryngeal nerve in the neck caused a live pig to stop squealing—an extraordinary feat. Because of Galen’s fame and influence, this nerve retained great importance in dissections by later anatomists and surgeons before and throughout the Renaissance. This paper documents many of these anatomical findings and highlights the importance of a careful, delicate, recurrent laryngeal nerve dissection during thyroidectomy, as popularized by Dr. Frank Lahey in 1938.