The start and development of epilepsy surgery in Europe: a historical review

Olaf E. M. G. Schijns*, Govert Hoogland, Pieter L. Kubben, Peter J. Koehler

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Epilepsy has not always been considered a brain disease, but was believed to be a demonic possession in the past. Therefore, trepanation was done not only for medical but also for religious or spiritual reasons, originating in the Neolithic period (3000 BC). The earliest documentation of trepanation for epilepsy is found in the writings of the Hippocratic Corpus and consisted mainly of just skull surgery. The transition from skull surgery to brain surgery took place in the middle of the nineteenth century when the insight of epilepsy as a cortical disorder of the brain emerged. This led to the start of modern epilepsy surgery. The pioneer countries in which epilepsy surgery was performed in Europe were the UK, Germany, and The Netherlands. Neurosurgical forerunners like Sir Victor Horsley, William Macewen, Fedor Krause, and Otfrid Foerster started with "modern" epilepsy surgery. Initially, epilepsy surgery was mainly done with the purpose to resect traumatic lesions or large surface tumours. In the course of the twentieth century, this changed to highly specialized microscopic navigation-guided surgery to resect lesional and non-lesional epileptogenic cortex. The development of epilepsy surgery in Southern Europe, which has not been described until now, will be elaborated in this manuscript. To summarize, in this paper, we provide (1) a detailed description of the evolution of European epilepsy surgery with special emphasis on the pioneer countries; (2) novel, never published information about the development of epilepsy surgery in Southern Europe; and (3) we review the historical dichotomy of invasive electrode implantation strategy (Anglo-Saxon surface electrodes versus French-Italian stereoencephalography (SEEG) model).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)447-460
JournalNeurosurgical Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015


  • History
  • Epilepsy surgery
  • Europe
  • SEEG
  • Electrode implantation

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