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Thomas Willis (1621–1675), the founder of clinical neuroscience


Thomas Willis is considered to be one of the greatest neuroanatomists of all time. His name is usually associated with 'the circle of Willis', an anastomotic circle at the base of the brain, but his work also formed the foundation of basic neuroanatomical description and nomenclature, and comparative neuroanatomy. By combining his insightful clinical observations with his original pathological studies, his enquiring mind established links that are still astonishing 300 years on. For these reasons, Willis' name and achievements should be proclaimed to every new generation of neuroscientists.

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Figure 1: Beam Hall on Merton Street, Oxford.
Figure 2: Title page of Cerebri Anatome.
Figure 3: Willis' letter to Dr Richard Higges in Coventry17.
Figure 4: Anne Green's execution and her miraculous resuscitation.
Figure 5: Thomas Willis aged 45 years.
Figure 6: Illustrations from Cerebri Anatome (1).
Figure 7: Illustrations from Cerebri Anatome (2).


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C. Hilliard drew my attention to Willis' letters to Dr Richard Higges and helped me with my study of original manuscripts. I am grateful to the President and Fellows of St John's College for their kind permission to take pictures of the original publications and manuscripts. I would like to thank N. Pollini, E. Hurren, R. Hevner, K. Mitchell, C. Blakemore and C. Voelker for useful discussions and B. Riederer for help with the photography for Figure 1.

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Molnár, Z. Thomas Willis (1621–1675), the founder of clinical neuroscience. Nat Rev Neurosci 5, 329–335 (2004).

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