World Journal of Surgery

, Volume 33, Issue 3, pp 386–393 | Cite as

History of the Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve: From Galen to Lahey

  • Edwin L. KaplanEmail author
  • George I. Salti
  • Manuela Roncella
  • Noreen Fulton
  • Mark Kadowaki


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.


Goiter Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve Thyroid Surgery Recurrent Nerve Sixth Century 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The author thanks Mrs. Patricia Schaddelee for her excellent help preparing the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Société Internationale de Chirurgie 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edwin L. Kaplan
    • 1
    Email author
  • George I. Salti
    • 2
  • Manuela Roncella
    • 3
  • Noreen Fulton
    • 4
  • Mark Kadowaki
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of Surgery, Section of General SurgeryUniversity of Chicago Pritzker School of MedicineChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Department of SurgeryUniversity of IllinoisChicagoUSA
  3. 3.Division of General and Transplantation SurgeryUniversity of PisaPisaItaly
  4. 4.Department of MedicineUniversity of IllinoisChicagoUSA
  5. 5.Maui Medical GroupWailukuUSA

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