1910s' brains revisited. Cortical complexity in early 20th century patients with intellectual disability or with dementia praecox

A.-L. Sandu, M-L Paillère Martinot, E. Artiges, J.-L. Martinot

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OBJECTIVE: The idea of cortical surface anomalies in subjects with intellectual disability (mental retardation) and schizophrenia can be traced back to early 20th century qualitative observations. Since it is unknown whether modern quantitative measures of cortical complexity and folding would retrieve those early empirical observations, we measured fractal dimension and sulcal span index in photographs of human brains taken in the 1910's.

METHOD: Brain photographs were compared between 36 patients with mental retardation and 21 patients with dementia praecox for the fractal dimension and sulcal span index. Also, a mental retardation subgroup with no-or-non-understandable speech (n = 12) was compared with a subgroup with comprehensible speech (n = 23).

RESULTS: Mental retardation group had a lower whole-brain fractal dimension than dementia praecox, and a higher sulcal span index in left posterior cortex. The mental retardation subgroup with comprehensible speech had a lower fractal dimension in left hemisphere than the subgroup with no-or-non-understandable speech and a lower sulcal index in left posterior cortex.

CONCLUSION: Measures of cortical complexity and folding suggest differences between mental retardation and dementia praecox, and regional variations according to language abilities in mental retardation. The findings provide a unique picture of cortical surface changes in their original untreated form, one century ago.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-237
Number of pages11
JournalActa Psychiatrica Scandinavica
Issue number3
Early online date18 Aug 2014
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2014



  • mental retardation
  • schizophrenia
  • cortical complexity
  • sulcal span index
  • pervasive development disorders

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