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Titre: Heinrich August Wrisberg (17361808): Physician and anatomist

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Clinical Anatomy 27:10–13 (2014)

A GLIMPSE OF OUR PAST

Heinrich August Wrisberg (1736–1808):
Physician and Anatomist
R. SHANE TUBBS,1* DIPTI PADMALAYAM,1
MOHAMMADALI M. SHOJA,2 AND MARIOS LOUKAS3
1

Pediatric Neurosurgery, Children’s Hospital, Birmingham, Alabama
Division of Neurosurgery, University of Alabama, Birmingham, Alabama
3
Department of Anatomical Sciences, St. George’s University, Grenada

2

The German Heinrich August Wrisberg made significant contributions to
anatomical knowledge during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. However,
very little is known of this early European physician and anatomist. Wrisberg
was considered an excellent anatomist and wrote several textbooks in the field.
Using standard computer search engines, this report reviews the known literature on this historic figure and notes his multiple contributions to the study of
human morphology. Clin. Anat. 27:10–13, 2014. V 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
C

Key words: history; anatomy; Germany

INTRODUCTION
Heinrich August Wrisberg (Fig. 1) was born on 28
July 1736 in Sankt Andreasberg, Germany (Dobson,
1962), a small town in the ‘‘Harz mountains’’ near
Go
¨ttingen (Thode, 1979). Little is known about
Wrisberg’s family background and details regarding
his life remain somewhat obscure. It is known that
he often published under the Latinized version of his
name, Henricus Augustus Wrisberg. He started
studying medicine at the Georg-August-University of
Go
¨ttingen in 1757. He worked as prosector in the
Anatomical Institute from 1762 to 1764 (Thode,
1979). In 1764, he obtained his MD from the University of Go
¨ttingen (founded 1734) with a thesis on the
phrenic nerve titled De Respiratione Prima Nervo
Phrenico et Calore Animali (Eycleshymer and Schoemaker, 1917; Wrisberg, 1763a). He went on to study
obstetrics, writing treatises on the anatomy of such
structures as the gravid uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and the corpus luteum (Wrisberg, 1783, 1887).
He became medical director of the clinic for gynecology and midwifery at the University of Go
¨ttingen
from 1765 to 1785. He published on respiration,
embryology, the trigeminal nerve, and nerves of the
abdomen and arm (Alfieri et al., 2010; Toldt, 1926;
Wrisberg, 1763b; Wrisberg, 1780). One such publication was titled Ioannis Georgii Roedereri med.
et anat. . . . elementa artis obstetricia (Roederer and
Wrisberg, 1766), which he coauthored with Johan
Georg Roederer (1726–1763), a German physician
and obstetrician. Roederer was director of the
C 2012
V

Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

obstetrical hospital (‘‘Accouchier House’’) of the
Georg-August-University of Go
¨ttingen, which was the
first academic obstetrical hospital in Germany. After
Albrecht von Haller (the 2nd Professor of Anatomy at
the young University of Go
¨ttingen) left Go
¨ttingen in
1753, Roederer became Professor of Anatomy and
director of the Anatomical Institute (Thode, 1979).
Wrisberg would go on to replace Roederer at the
university who died at the age of 36. Another contribution of Wrisberg’s was his Descriptio Anatomica
Embryonis published in 1768. This text documented
Wrisberg’s observations of the development of the
human based on five cases in which he performed
fetal autopsies. Wrisberg also wrote a text on the
relationship between the testicles and hernias
(1779). It was earlier in 1764, that Wrisberg demonstrated that the embryonic protrusion of the gut
through the umbilicus was a normal process
(Robinson, 1898). He also wrote on pathological
entities including rabies (Heine, 1935).
A notable influence in Wrisberg’s life was Georg
Gottlob Richter (1694–1773). Richter, a professor of
medicine, philosophy, and philology was Wrisberg’s
*Correspondence to: R. Shane Tubbs, Children’s Hospital, Pediatric Neurosurgery, 1600 7th Avenue South, ACC 400, Birmingham,
AL 35233. E-mail: shane.tubbs@childrensal.org
Received 10 November 2011; Revised 10 February 2012;
Accepted 15 February 2012
Published online 19 March 2012 in Wiley
(wileyonlinelibrary.com). DOI 10.1002/ca.22067

Online

Library

H.A. Wrisberg: Physician and Anatomist

11

TABLE 1. Anatomical Structures Described by
and Named After Wrisberg
Wrisberg’s nerve: medial brachial cutaneous
(lesser internal brachial cutaneous) nerve
or the nervus intermedius
Wrisberg’s cardiac ganglion: When present,
is found as part of the superficial cardiac plexus,
immediately below the arch of aorta, on the right
side of the ligamentum arteriosum
Wrisberg’s ganglion: right celiac ganglion
Ansa memorabilis: nerve loop formed between
the celiac ganglion and the anastomosis between
the right vagus and greater splanchnic nerves
in the abdomen
Anastomosis Wrisbergii: nervous connection between
the medical brachial cutaneous and intercostobrachial
nerves or the nervous connection between the right
vagus nerve and greater splanchnic nerve in
the abdomen
Ramus magnus nervus mediani: musculocutaneous
nerve
Wrisberg’s ligament: posterior meniscofemoral ligament
Wrisberg’s lingula: connections between the motor
and sensory roots of the trigeminal nerve
Lacertus rectus (medius): anterior longitudinal ligament
Corpus pampiniforme: plexus of testicular veins near
and inferior to the kidney
Wrisberg’s cartilages: cuneiform cartilages
Wrisberg’s staff: prominence of the cuneiform cartilage
seen on laryngoscopic examination

Fig. 1. Drawing of Heinrich August Wrisberg. [Color
figure can be viewed in the online issue, which is available at wileyonlinelibrary.com.]

Fig. 2. Illustration of a dissected infant from Wrisberg’s Commentationum Medici, Physiologici, Anatomici
et Obstetricii Argument published in 1800. [Color figure
can be viewed in the online issue, which is available at
wileyonlinelibrary.com.]

Fig. 3. Cover page from Wrisberg’s publication on
the nerves of the cranium where the nervus intermedius
is described.

12

Tubbs et al.

Fig. 4. Drawing of the nerves of the cranium from Wrisberg’s publication Observationum Anatomicarum de Nervis Viscerum Abdominalium published in 1780. [Color
figure can be viewed in the online issue, which is available at wileyonlinelibrary.com.]

teacher at the University of Go
¨ttingen. Wrisberg
eventually became a professor of both medicine and
obstetrics (Wrisberg, 1800) (Fig. 2). His students
were many and included Justus Ferdinand Christian
Loder (1753–1832) a German anatomist and surgeon also from the University of Go
¨ttingen. Loder
was one of the first to establish an anatomical theater and later went on to publish Tabulae anatomicae
(1794–1803), which is considered to be one of the
most comprehensive anatomical atlases of its time
(Ruestow and Edward, 2004). Interestingly, Loder
became physician to the Prussian royal family at
Ko
¨nigsberg and later moved to Russia to become
personal physician to Czar Alexander I (1777–1825)
in 1810. Wrisberg also taught Christoph Wilhelm
Hufeland (1762–1836), a renowned physician and
researcher and Samuel Soemmering (1755–1830)
(University of Mainz) who following Wrisberg’s

encouragement, reclassified the cranial nerves into
12 pairs (Alfieri et al., 2010). Interestingly, Hufeland
became Physician Royal to the King of Prussia, as
well as to other notables such as Johann Wolfgang
Goethe (1749–1832), Johann Gottfried von Herder
(1744–1803), Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759–1805), and Christoph Martin Wieland
(1732–1813) (Kemper, 1905).
While the majority of Wrisberg’s research was
anatomical, his scope extended to the zoological sciences as well. Wrisberg was a pioneer in the study of
protozoans. He described the process by which infusoria were produced, a theory that eventually established the classification of these organisms among
other groups of animals. The term infusoria was first
used to describe microorganisms found in decaying
material (Wrisberg, 1765). Currently, this term is
used for a class of the phylum Ciliophora.

H.A. Wrisberg: Physician and Anatomist
Wrisberg contributed much to the field of anatomy
through his research and publications and was
regarded as an ‘‘excellent’’ anatomist (Kemper,
1905). In 1764, he described the cuneiform cartilages
of the larynx, often referred to as the cartilages of
Wrisberg (Layton, 1934). In the same year, he also
gave concise descriptions of a ganglion of the superficial cardiac plexus (Wrisberg’s ganglion), as well as
the lateral meniscus of the knee and the posterior
meniscofemoral ligament (ligament of Wrisberg)
(Gupte et al., 2002). He was the first to clearly illustrate the fibers connecting the motor and the sensory
roots of the trigeminal nerve (Wrisberg’s lingula).
He contributed again to the anatomy of the nervous
system with his work in 1777 (Figs. 3 and 4), which
included original descriptions of the nervus intermedius, as well as a branch of the brachial plexus supplying the skin of the medial side of the arm (medial
brachial cutaneous nerve).
Wrisberg is probably most remembered for his
descriptions of the nervus intermedius, a small branch
of the facial nerve transmitting general visceral efferent (lacrimation), special visceral afferent (taste),
and general somatic afferent (concha of the ear)
fibers. It is these latter fibers that are responsible for
the vesicles seen in the concha with herpetic infection
of the geniculate ganglion (Ramsay Hunt syndrome).
First identified in 1563, it was Heinrich August Wrisberg who later termed this nerve the ‘‘portio media
inter comunicantem faciei et nervum auditorium’’ in
1777 (Alfieri et al., 2010). Sensory fibers innervate
parts of the inner, middle and external ear, the mastoid cells, and the eustachian tube. Also known as the
nerve of Sapolinis (Alfieri et al., 2010) and probably
first described by Eustachius in 1563, damage to
this nerve following, for example, microsurgical
approaches to the cerebellopontine angle may result
in taste and tearing dysfunction (Alfieri et al., 2010).
Incidentally, and as mentioned above, the nerve of
Wrisberg can also refer to the medial cutaneous nerve
of the arm referred to by Wrisberg as the ‘‘lesser internal cutaneous nerve.’’ The medial cutaneous nerve of
the arm arises from the medial cord of the brachial
plexus and joins the intercostobrachial nerve to supply the skin of the medial side of the arm and travels
with the basilic vein. The anastomosis between the
medial cutaneous nerve of the arm and the intercostobrachial nerve is known as the anastomosis of Wrisberg (Gould and Scott, 1919).
Some did not hold Wrisberg in high regard and
thought that he allowed the Anatomical Institute to
decline from what its former director Albrecht von
Haller had established (Thode, 1979). Complaints
regarding neglected duties in teaching of anatomy
and obstetrics and his handling of cadavers were
documented in letters from 1774 to the end of the
19th century (Thode, 1979). In 1804, Conrad Johann
Martin Langenbeck (1776–1851) became Professor
of Surgery in Go
¨ttingen. He was not happy about
the status of the Anatomical Institute and along with
Adolph Friedrich Hempel (1767–1834), the prosector
in the Anatomical Institute, described the bad situation in several letters sent to the government in
Hannover (Thode, 1979).

13

Wrisberg played a variety of roles as an anatomist, physician, teacher, and researcher in Go
¨ttingen. He contributed to many different fields of
science and worked extensively until his death on 29
March 1808 in Go
¨ttingen (Ripley and Dana, 1873).
Wrisberg’s name lives on via several anatomical
terms. It is the contributions of such early pioneers
in anatomy such as Wrisberg on which we base our
current understanding of the human form.

REFERENCES
Alfieri A, Strauss C, Prell J, Peschke E. 2010. History of the nervus
intermedius of Wrisberg. Ann Anat 192:139–144.
Dobson J. 1962. Anatomical Eponyms. 2nd Ed. Edinburgh: E & S
Livingstone.
Eycleshymer AC, Schoemaker DM. 1917. Anatomical Names.
New York: William Wood & Co.
Heine B. 1935. H.A. Wrisberg’s Bedeutung fuer die Pathologie
(1736–1808). Go
¨tt: Erbs & Meisel.
Kemper GWH. 1905. The World’s Anatomists. Philadelphia: Blakiston’s Son & Co.
Gould GM, Scott RJE. 1919. The Practitioner’s Medical Dictionary.
Philadelphia: Blakiston’s Son & Co. 953 p.
Gupte CM, Smith A, McDermott ID, Bull AM, Thomas RD, Amis AA.
2002. Meniscofemoral ligaments revisited. Anatomical study,
age correlation and clinical implications. J Bone Joint Surg Br
84:846–851.
Layton TB. 1934. An unusual appearance of the larynx. Proc R Soc
Med 27:212–213.
Loder JC. 1794–1803. Tabulae Anatomicae. Jena: HWC Seidler.
Ripley G, Dana C. 1873. The American Cyclopædia: A Popular
Dictionary of General Knowledge. Vol 13. New York: Appleton and
Company. URL: http://chestofbooks.com/reference/AmericanCyclopaedia-13/Heights-Heinrich-August-Wrisberg.html [Accessed
November 2011].
Robinson B. 1898. General and historical views in regard to the
development of the peritoneum and abdominal viscera. Med
Brief 26:1481–1486.
Roederer JG, Wrisberg HA. 1766. Ioannis Georgii Roedereri med. et
anat. . . . elementa artis obstetriciae. Goettingae: Apud Vidual
Abrami Vandenhoeckii.
Ruestow EG. 2004. The Microscope in the Dutch Republic:
The Shaping of Discovery. Cambridge, London: Cambridge
University Press. p 267–271.
Thode B. 1979. Die Go
¨ttinger Anatomie 1733–1828. Med Diss.
Go
¨ttingen University.
Toldt C. 1926. An Atlas of Human Anatomy for Students and
Physicians. New York: Macmillan.
Wrisberg HA. 1763a. De Respiratione Prima Nervo Phrenico et
Calore Animali. Goettingae: Schultze.
Wrisberg HA. 1763b. Descriptio Anatomica Embryonis. Goettingae:
Sumtibus Viduae A. Vandenhoeck.
Wrisberg HA. 1765. Observationum de Animalculis Infusoriis Satura.
Goettingae: Vidum B. Vandenhoech.
Wrisberg HA. 1777. Observationes Anatomicae de Quinto Pare
Nervorum Encephali. Goettingae: Joann Christian Dieterich.
Wrisberg HA. 1779. Observationes Anatomicae de Testiculorum ex
Abdomine in Scrotum Descensu. Goettingae: Joann Christian
Dieterich.
Wrisberg HA. 1780. Observationum Anatomicarum de Nervis
Viscerum Abdominalium. Goettingae: Joann Christian Dieterich.
Wrisberg HA. 1783. Observationes Anatomico Obstetriciae de Structura Ovi. Goettingae: Joann Christian Dieterich.
Wrisberg HA. 1787. Commentatio de Uteri. Gottingae: Ex Officina
Dieterichiana.
Wrisberg HA. 1800. Commentationum Medici, Physiologici, Anatomici
et Obstetricii Argument. Gottingae: Typis Joann Christian
Dieterich.


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