Professor Emeritus Maxime Seligmann (1927–2010)

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Maxime Seligmann passed away on April, 26, 2010. He was an outstanding French physician-scientist who has influenced the development of modern immunology over the past fifty years and was President of the French Society for Immunology from 1984 to 1988. Born in 1927, he completed his medical education at the Faculty of Medicine at Paris University, becoming a pediatrician and hematologist. His scientific career and interest in immunology began at the Pasteur Institute in Dr. Grabar's laboratory before moving in 1957 to work at the Saint-Louis hospital in Paris; there Maxime Seligmann headed both a clinical immunology department and a research laboratory supported by INSERM, Paris 7 University and CNRS. More recently, he contributed to the fight against the HIV epidemic at the Assistance Publique – Hôpitaux de Paris and ANRS. During the later stages of his career, he was a member of the French National Ethics committee.

As a physician-scientist, Maxime Seligmann was insightful and brillant, always starting from clinical observations to understand fundamental immunology. His first groundbreaking work was the identification of antibodies to DNA in lupus patients in 1957 1. This was a provocative finding that raised countless issues and investigations over the years. Thereafter, his work dealt with a breath of immuno-hematological issues, with numerous contributions to the fields of monoclonal immunoglobulins and lymphoproliferative diseases. The list of innovative findings include the idiotypic nature and antibody activity of monoclonal immunoglobulins 2–5, the genetic susceptibility to Waldenstrom's macroglobulinemia (a seminal observation in 1967) 6, the monoclonal nature of lymphoid malignancies, the pathophysiology of non-secretory and light chain myelomas, and the first description of T-cell malignancies 7–9. The discovery of α heavy chain disease 10 remained a central focus of Maxime Seligmann's work. Beyond the description of the clinical, cellular and molecular characteristics of the disease, he emphazised its unique epidemiological features, pointing to the potential triggering role of intestinal micro-organisms; in fact, antibiotics turned out to be of therapeutic value. More broadly, his research interests extended to several aspects of autoimmunity and immunodeficiencies, areas for which he was a WHO expert.

These achievements were shared with many colleagues around the world; Maxime Seligmann was an invaluable discussant at internationl conferences with exchanges of thoughts, material and elaboration regarding theoretical models for B and T lymphocyte homeostasis. Maxime Seligmann was also a superb teacher, running many medical and scientific courses. Indeed he remains an inspiring model for several generations of physician-scientists. He was dedicated to his faculty duties and one personnal achievement was the recognition of immunology, both medical and biological, as a medical specialty. In the early 1980s Maxime Seligmann became a French-government adviser proposing changes to the medical course in part to facilitate the development of clinical investigation, which he thought to be an endangered science. Maxime Seligmann also served as an Executive Committee member of the European Journal of Immunology for 17 years (1975–1991). This task was, as usual, accomplished with integrity and thoughtfulness. We shall all miss him.

Jean-Claude Brouet

Department of Immunology, Saint-Louis Hospital, Paris