Wilhelm Heinrich Erb

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Wilhelm Heinrich Erb

Wilhelm Heinrich Erb (30 November 1840 – 29 October 1921) was a German neurologist. He was born in Winnweiler, and died in Heidelberg.

Academic career[edit]

Erb's grave in Heidelberg

In 1864 he received his medical degree from the University of Heidelberg, where for several years he served as an assistant to pathologist Nikolaus Friedreich (1825-1882). As a young man, he also worked for a period of time under Ludwig von Buhl (1816-1880) in Munich. In 1880 Erb attained the chair of special pathology at the University of Leipzig, where he was also appointed head of its policlinic. In 1883 he succeeded Friedreich at the University of Heidelberg, where he worked until his retirement in 1907. Psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin (1856-1926) and neurologists Ernst Julius Remak (1849-1911) and Max Nonne (1861-1959) were a few of his better known students.

Neurological research[edit]

Erb began his medical career in the fields of toxicology and histology, but later his interest switched to neurology, of which he became one of the 19th century's leading neurologists. He extensively used electrodiagnostic testing and demonstrated heightened motor nerve sensitivity in tetanus. He is also credited with popularizing the reflex hammer for use in neurological examinations.

He made early observations associated with syphilis to tabes dorsalis (nerve fiber and nerve cell degeneration). In his research of tabes dorsalis, he tried to find the link between this condition and syphilis. He also made contributions in his research of poliomyelitis, claudication intermittens, and progressive muscular atrophy. In 1878, he described myasthenia gravis, a condition sometimes referred to as the "Erb-Goldflam disease" (named along with neurologist Samuel Goldflam). Myasthenia gravis is a neuromuscular disorder that leads to fatigue and muscle weakness.

He was the author of over 250 medical works, including Handbuch der Elektrotherapie (a textbook on electrotherapy), and an important study on spinal paralysis.

Associated eponyms[edit]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Zur Pathologie and pathologische Anatomie peripherischer Paralysen, (Pathology and pathological anatomy of peripheral paralysis), 1867/1868.
  • Spastische Spinalparalyse, (Spastic spinal paralysis), 1875.
  • Handbuch der Krankheiten der peripheren cerebrospinalen Nerven (Textbook involving disorders of the peripheral cerebro-spinal nerves), 1874.
  • Handbuch der Elektrotherapie, (Textbook of electrotherapy), 1882.