Denny-Brown Research Collection
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In addition to his more than 300 publications Denny-Brown also left the scientific community a large collection of potentially valuable materials that comprise the Denny-Brown Research Collection. This material is derived from lesion experiments he conducted on 450 monkeys between 1948 and 1972 and some of the atypical neurological cases Denny-Brown saw while Director of the the Neurological Unit at Boston City Hospital. The primate material consists of approximately 2200 100-ft rolls of film of animals depicting their behavior after central nervous system (CNS) lesions. In most cases Denny-Brown conducted experiments in which the animals received a series of lesions, with each surgery occurring a set period of time after the prior one. The films show the animals at various times after the single and multiple lesions. The behaviors shown on the films include standing, walking and sitting in a cage, responses to standard quadrupedal neurological reflex tests (e.g., placing, hopping, righting, tilting, grasping and avoiding), responses to passive manipulation of the limbs and responses to noxious stimuli (e.g., pinpricks). All of these films have been transferred to videotape in chronological sequence for each animal. Some of these tapes have been verbally annotated. In addition to the films, for a large majority of the animals, the Collection includes written records describing the behaviors at successive stages after each lesion, drawing and descriptions of the lesions, and photographs of the brain at autopsy. Lastly, microscopic slides documenting the extent of the lesions are also available for most of the animals.
The primate material is divided into 12 series as follows:
1. Hemisection of the spinal cord (13 cases; spinal cord
hemisection at C3-4).
2. Pyramidal tract (17 cases, unilateral sections of pyramidal tract).
3. Ablation of the cerebral cortex (43 cases; sequential ablations of the left and right lobules of specific brain lobes [e.g., parietal], or sequential ablation of supplementary motor cortices, or cortices contributing to the pyramidal tract).
4. Basal ganglia (39 cases; bilateral ablations of basal ganglia nuclei [e.g., globus pallidus, putamen] or thalamic nuclei [e.g., centromedian, anterior] or superior colliculus).
5. Dorsal column (102 cases; sequential ablations of several CNS areas [e.g., cervical dorsal column, areas 4 and 6, anterior cerebellum, supplementary motor areas, areas 6 and 8, all cortex, area 17, thalamus, vestibular nerve]; some animals had "isolation" of cortical areas [areas not included in large ablation]).
6. Brainstem (8 cases; "splits" of medulla, pons, pons and medullary tegmentum, or tegmentum and cerebellum).
7. Deafferentation (75 cases; uni- or bilateral sections of all but 1 of 7 sequential thoracic and lumbar dorsal roots, with the intact root in the middle of the range; in some cases this was combined with lesions of the pre- and postcentral gyri, Lissauer's tract, dorsal column, ventral roots, trigeminal nerve, or subthalamic nuclei, or spinal section or hemisection, subconvulsive does of strychnine were given to some animals).
8. Cerebral cortex ablation (62 cases; various cortical ablations including sequential removal of the pre- and postcentral cortices, followed by the corresponding contralateral areas, or premotor cortex or decortication).
9. Putamen (31 cases half of which were infants; bilateral ablation of all or parts of the putamen).
10. Cerebellar (3 cases; 2 hemicerebellar ablations and 1 total cerebellectomy).
11. Pretectum (40 cases; uni- or bilateral ablation of pretectal area).
12. Subthalamic (14 cases; uni-or bilateral ablation of subthalamic nuclei).
The human films depict patients with the following neurological conditions: right middle cerebral artery syndrome, Huntington's disease, von Gierke's disease, visual agnosia, dystonia, torticollis, Pelizaeus-Merzbacher disease, myoclonus, hemiplegia, jacksonian epilepsy, apraxia, multiple tics, parietal tremor, spasmus mutans, peacock gait, olivopontocerebellar atrophy, parkinsonism (idiopathic and postencephalitic), myoclonic epilepsy, Pick's disease, lathyrism, thalamic syndrome, Thomsen's disease, Sydenham's disease, carbon monoxide poisoning, decerebrate rigidity, cortical atrophy, hypoglycemic mutism, ataxia resulting from chicken pox, opsoclonus, dystonia resulting from high forceps delivery, floccular syndrome, alcoholic cerebellar degeneration, "slippery clutch" syndrome, apraxia resulting from disconnection, Werncke's disease, lobotomy, tabes dorsalis, cerebellar ataxia, supranuclear palsy, pseudobulbar palsy, postmeasles encephalopathy, lipidosis, frontal ataxia, hysterical tremor, "bulldog phenomenon," parietal catatonia, mercury tremor, and cerebellar agensis.
To view a table depicting the individual human cases, click
The potential value of the primate films relate to their number, to Denny-Brown's use of sequential lesion to understand how the different components of the CNS affect the animal's response to sensory stimuli, to the fact that much of the data are unpublished and to the increasing social and economic difficulties associated with using monkeys in medical research. Examples of how the primate material has been used for contemporary analyses are evident in the following references:
Vilensky, J.A., R.J. Morecraft, S. Gilman and J.A. Cook. "Mouth-
feeding" in monkeys after sensorimotor system lesions: an
analysis based on the Denny-Brown collection. Behavioural Brain Research 94:311-315, 1998.
Vilensky, J.A., S. Gilman, E.A. Dunn and W.J. Wilson. Utilization of
the Denny-Brown Collection: Differential recovery of
forelimb and hind limb stepping after extensive unilateral cerebral lesions. Behavioural Brain Research 82:223-234,
Vilensky, J.A., S. Gilman and R.J. Morecraft. DC60: An example
of one of the 450 cases that comprise the Denny-Brown
collection of primate lesion material. Movement Disorders 11:207-213,1996.
The patient films are valuable today because: 1) they depict patients
in the end stages of neurological conditions; 2) they demonstrate diseases
not currently seen (e.g., postencephalitic parkinsonism); 3) they demonstrate
many of the reflex responses and other abnormalities Denny-Brown described;
4) they may enhance the ability of contemporary and future neurologists
to utilize more effectively Denny-Brown's theories on the organization
of the nervous system and its responses to injury; 5) Denny-Brown's method
of patient examination will be of interest to future neurologists.
This method represents the epoch in neurology when examinations were designed
to reveal the physiological consequences of CNS lesions, similar
to the way that Sherrington examined his animals, that is, seeking to reveal
reflex responses that were "released."
For the primate material, details of the lesions for each animal are currently being compiled into a database so that we will easily be able to determine whether the Collection includes records for animals with specific lesions, and what those record consists of (e.g., films, written records, photographs etc.). The data for the Dorsal Column, Prectectum, Ablation of the Cerebral Cortex and Putamen series are currently fully incorporated into the database. Any interested researcher may request me to perform a search of the Collection (firstname.lastname@example.org) for specific information about whether it includes data on animals with specific lesions. To provide further details on the searchable aspects of the database, a representative input page of the database for one animal at a specific date (DC60 on 12/13/65, which is the date of its last surgery) is depicted below. The database can be searched for any single lesion or combination of the lesions shown on the page. Eventually, the database will be searchable via the internet. If the Collection does include film and/or written records of interest to the investigator, these will be provided at no charge because the National Institutes of Health has provided funds for this purpose.
Videotape copies of any of the patient films will also be provided at
no charge. In addition, two annotated videotapes depicting patients
with some of the noted disorders have been made and are available.
The first, "Introduction to Neurology" is approximately 36 minutes long
was designed to supplement the teaching of undergraduate health professionals
(e.g., medical, nursing and physical therapy students) by demonstrating
abnormal findings. "Neurological Disorders" (approximately 56 minutes)
was designed for advanced students and professionals (e.g., neurologists,
residents, and physical therapists) and is unique in its depiction of patients
with end-stage or uncommon neurologic disorders.
Further information about the collection is available from me at: email@example.com
Joel A. Vilensky, Ph.D.
Indiana University School of Medicine
2101 Coliseum Blvd., E.
Fort Wayne, IN 46805
Tel: (219) 481-6738
Fax: (219) 481-6408