Resurgence of functional neurosurgery for Parkinson's disease: A historical perspective


  • Dr. J. D. Speelman MD, PhD,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Neurology, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    • The Department of Neurology, Academic Medical Center, PO Box 22700, 1100 DE Amsterdam, The Netherlands===

    Search for more papers by this author
  • D. A. Bosch MD, PhD

    1. Department of Neurosurgery, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
    Search for more papers by this author


The history of functional neurosurgery for the treatment of Parkinson's disease is reviewed. Two major stages may be distinguished: (1) open functional neurosurgery, which started in 1921 with bilateral cervical rhizotomy by Leriche. In 1937 Bucy performed the first motor cortectomy in a tremor patient, and subsequently introduced lesioning of the corticospinal tract at different levels. In 1939 Meyers started open transventricular surgery of the basal ganglia, which was abandoned in the 1940s because of high mortality. However, this operation drew attention to the basal ganglia and their efferent pathways as surgical targets for the relief of parkinsonian symptoms. (2) Stereotactic (closed) functional neurosurgery in patients was in 1947 for the first time performed by Spiegel and Wycis, soon followed by surgeons in various countries. Originally, the globus pallidus and the ansa lenticularis were the surgical targets but were replaced at the end of the 1950s by the ventrolateral thalamus. A few surgeons positioned their lesions in the subthalamic area. In both targets favorable results were reported for the treatment of tremor and rigidity with acceptable adverse events. In selected patients, bilateral surgery was performed. In 1969 the results of more than 37,000 stereotactic operations had been published. Criteria for the surgical technique and selection of patients were described, and various stereotaxic atlases became available. At that time, L-dopa became generally available and the number of stereotactic operations declined dramatically. However, as a result of the shortcomings of the L-dopa therapy in the long-term treatment of Parkinson's disease, the thalamotomy gradually regained its place. New developments were the reintroduction of the pallidotomy by Laitinen in 1992 and the thalamic stimulation for pharmacotherapy-resistant tremor by Benabid and collaborators in 1991. New insights in the pathophysiology of Parkinson's disease supported the revival of the functional stereotactic neurosurgery and recently caused the introduction of the subthalamic nucleus as a surgical target in the treatment of Parkinson's disease.