François Pourfour du Petit

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François Pourfour du Petit
Born24 June 1664
Died18 June 1741 (1741-06-19) (aged 76)

François Pourfour du Petit (24 June 1664 – 18 June 1741) was a French anatomist, ophthalmologist and surgeon who conducted careful anatomical studies of the human eye. He also conducted early experiments in neurology.

Petit was born in Paris and was orphaned at an early age. He studied the classics at the College de Beauvais before studies in Belgium and Germany. He then studied medicine at the University of Montpellier, and afterwards surgery at the Hôpital de la Charité in Paris. During this period of time he also attended lectures by Guichard Joseph Duverney (1648–1730) in anatomy and Joseph Pitton de Tournefort (1656–1708) in botany. Between 1693 and 1713 he was a military physician in the armies of Louis XIV, and after the Peace of Utrecht (1713), he returned to Paris as an eye specialist. He conducted many cataract surgeries using the technique of displacing the lens using a needle and influenced Jacques Daviel approach to cataract treatment. He made careful measurements and used biometrical approaches to understanding the eye. He was among the first to note changes in the shape of the lens with age.[1] From 1722 to 1741 he was a member of the Académie Royale des Sciences: associate member chemist and anatomist in 1722, then resident member anatomist in 1725.[1]

Petit is remembered for his detailed anatomical studies of the eye, as well as physiological research of the sympathetic nervous system. As a military physician, Petit noticed that there was a striking correlation between soldiers' head wounds and contralateral motor effects, which he documented in a 1710 treatise called Lettres d’un medecin des hopitaux du roi a un autre medecin de ses amis.[2] He was able to conduct ablations in dogs and produce similar effects.[3] He performed pioneer investigations on the internal structure of the spinal cord, and gave an early, detailed description of the decussation of the pyramids.[4] He also provided the first clinical description of symptoms of the rare Pourfour du Petit syndrome, which is thought to be closely related to Horner's syndrome, and also known as reverse Horner syndrome because of its clinical features of mydriasis, eyelid retraction and hyperhidrosis.[5][6]

Associated eponyms[edit]

Anatomical features named after Petit include:[7]


  1. ^ a b Charman, W Neil (2016). "François Pourfour du Petit (1664-1741): pioneer in ocular biometry". Ophthalmic and Physiological Optics. 36 (4): 428–438. doi:10.1111/opo.12303. PMID 27350184. S2CID 41638252.
  2. ^ [1] Archived 2011-07-16 at the Wayback Machine The early 18th century contributions of Pourfour du Petit
  3. ^ Kruger, Lawrence; Swanson, Larry W. (2007), Whitaker, Harry; Smith, C. U. M.; Finger, Stanley (eds.), "1710: The Introduction of Experimental Nervous System Physiology and Anatomy by François Pourfour du Petit", Brain, Mind and Medicine: Essays in Eighteenth-Century Neuroscience, Boston, MA: Springer US, pp. 99–113, doi:10.1007/978-0-387-70967-3_8, ISBN 978-0-387-70966-6, retrieved 2022-05-09
  4. ^ Pearce, J.M.S. (2021). "Pourfour du Petit (1664–1741)". Revue Neurologique. 177 (1–2): 7–10. doi:10.1016/j.neurol.2020.04.023. PMID 32654778. S2CID 220499679.
  5. ^ Martinez-Ramirez, Sergi; Roig, Carles; Martí-Fàbregas, Joan (2010). "Pourfour du Petit Syndrome in a Patient with Thyroid Carcinoma". Case Reports in Neurology. 2 (2): 96–100. doi:10.1159/000319587. ISSN 1662-680X. PMC 2968770. PMID 21045936.
  6. ^ Nadal, Jeremy; Daien, Vincent; Audemard, Didier; Jeanjean, Luc (2019). "Pourfour du Petit Syndrome: A Rare Association With Cluster Headache". Ophthalmic Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery. 35 (1): e15–e16. doi:10.1097/IOP.0000000000001281. ISSN 0740-9303. PMID 30614949. S2CID 58644135.
  7. ^ Who Named It; François Pourfour du Petit (biographical information and eponyms)