journal (german)
texts (english)
Home - Medicine and Medical History - Korbinian Brodman (17 November 1868 – 22 August 1918)

Korbinian Brodman (17 November 1868 – 22 August 1918)

For a man who would later neatly classify the areas of the brain, Korbinian Brodman wasn’t one to neatly order his life. He studied Medicine in Munich, Würzburg, Berlin, and Freiburg, left for a while, the returned to pick up his diploma in 1895. Not content, he went back to school and restudied parts of the curriculum in Lausanne before accepting a job back in his first year university’s Hospital, Munich.

Brodman, with permission of the Vogt Family Trust
Brodman, with permission of the Vogt Family Trust

Two years later, he went to Leipzig to finish his PhD. That is, if you are counting with me, seven cities in ten years.

He worked for a while in Jena after that, came back to Munich and moved to Frankfurt shortly thereafter. Here he met Alois Alzheimer (yes, that Alzheimer), and the two became fast friends. Alzheimer convinced Brodman to leave Psychiatry, which he considered too mundane, and become a neurologist.

He moved to Berlin a year later, where he finally settled for a while. Looking for something to work and research on, he again listened to his friend Alzheimer and began mapping the brain’s areas. His book “Vergleichende Lokalisationslehre der Großhirnrinde” (Comparative Localization in the Cerebral Cortex) was published in 1909, a day before his 41st birthday. This was the first, and to this day authoritative, map of the cortex which would later be termed “Brodman Map” containing “Brodman Areas.” In doing so, he upset another long term friend, the neurologist Oscar Vogt who, despite being two years younger than Brodman, was his mentor and director in Berlin. Vogt had, the year before, classified the brain into 200 areas, too many to Brodman’s liking.

The same year he couldn’t sit still anymore and moved to Tübingen where he became a full professor in 1913. He left this job in 1916 to move to Halle, where he took a position as lead attending in a psychiatric hospital, a post he left a year and a half later to move back to Munich again.

Six months later he died, suddenly, from a septic infection after ignoring pneumonia. He was 49 years old.

Few physicians have managed to work in so many capacities and places while simultaneously contributing greatly to their field. Brodman’s 52 areas (yeah, Area 52 Joke coming in), combined into 11 histological ones, were defined “blind”. That is he demarked them based on anatomical features and histological structures. His theory, later proven correct, was, that differing structures performed differing functions in the brain.

He only got one thing a little wrong: Area 44 and 45 are in fact one area: Broca’s Area, the language center.

Brodman never married and was rumored to have had multiple male and female relationships, moving every time after one of them went sour. He was an avid reader, known to devour books in breaks between his work and being very Str8 Edge otherwise, not drinking or smoking (almost a must for physicians of that time to do both) and eating little to no animal products. He shared his atheism with Vogt but disliked his far left socialist leanings, probably another reason for their split after Brodman’s publication of his 52 areas.

Today, he still tortures medical students and allows neurologists to clearly communicate localizations in the brain.