Reference Work Entry

Textbook of Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery

pp 97-111

History of Stereotactic Surgery in France

  • A. L. Benabid
  • , S. Chabardes
  • , E. Seigneuret


The history of stereotaxy is part of a larger perspective of a methodological approach that is therapeutic and focuses on the search for precision. The search for precision implies the recognition and marking of targets (taxonomic version of the etymology of the word Stereotaxy, from taxis: order) as well as to the tactic act, which is the achievement, at least in human stereotaxy, of this approach (tactic version of the etymology of the word stereotaxy). The common denominator of these two definitions is the space (from the Greek Stereos: solid, volume), which by itself would define the methodology, based on the spatial coordinates of a point that will be called the target. This etymological duality corresponds in fact to a historical perspewctive, as for the first time, in 1917, the need to precisely recognize and localize the various spatial structures of the brain led Horsley and Clark [1] to design an instrumental method aimed at quantifying cerebral space, in order to attribute precise coordinates to the different structures that the anatomo physiologists were studying at that time. This taxonomy approach led to the development of an instrument and a method, and then to the elaboration of the concept of the surgical act based on exact location. This corresponded in fact to the tactic version of the etymological definition of stereotaxy, even if it has been, historically, only secondary. Having designed an apparatus and developed a method, one tended to build on these two concrete elements a philosophy, or at least a state of mind. This constitutes the most interesting, maybe the most noble, part of the history of stereotaxy. This history has been the reflection of the complex interaction, depending upon circumstances, between the technical means of the moment and the therapeutic needs, as well as on pharmacological alternatives. This process is not specific to stereotaxy. It characterizes every approach of Homo Faber, which tries to solve his current problems, on the bases of the know-how which is available. He often stumbles on technological bottlenecks, which impede the development of methods, and even make it transitorily disappear, until the advance of knowledge in other domains provides the key, which will open the lock. A new momentum of development is therefore observed until the time when a new obstacle stops the process again, or when the need disappears, often because advancements of knowledge in other domains have brought more satisfactory solutions. Stereotaxy is at the crossroads of industrial technology, of surgical technology and therapeutic needs, themselves strongly enclosed in the domain of neurosciences, which, as we know, is undergoing rapid evolution. It is therefore not surprising to see that its history has been chaotic, and it can be foreseen that it will become even more complicated.