The first formulation of image-based stereotactic principles: The forgotten work of Gaston Contremoulins

Cole A. Giller, Patrick Mornet, Jean François Moreau

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Although image-based human stereotaxis began with Spiegel and Wycis in 1947, the major principles of radiographic stereotaxis were formulated 50 years earlier by the French scientific photographer Gaston Contremoulins. In 1897, frustrated by the high morbidity of bullet extraction from the brain, the Parisian surgeon Charles Rémy asked Contremoulins to devise a method for bullet localization using the then new technology of x-rays. In doing so, Contremoulins conceived of many of the modern principles of stereotaxis, including the use of a reference frame, radiopaque fiducials for registration, images to locate the target in relation to the frame, phantom devices to locate the target in relation to the fiducial marks, and the use of an adjustable pointer to guide the surgical approach. Contremoulins' ideas did not emerge from science or medicine, but instead were inspired by his training in the fine arts. Had he been a physician instead of an artist, he might have never discovered his extraordinary methods. Contremoulins' "compass" and its variants enjoyed great success during World War I, but were abandoned by 1920 for simpler methods. Although Contremoulins was one of the most eminent radiographers in France, he was not a physician, and his personality was uncompromising. By 1940, both he and his methods were forgotten. It was not until 1988 that he was rediscovered by Moreau while reviewing the history of French radiology, and chronicled by Mornet in his extensive biography. The authors examine Contremoulins' stereotactic methods in historical context, describe the details of his devices, relate his discoveries to his training in the fine arts, and discuss how his prescient formulation of stereotaxis was forgotten for more than half a century.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1426-1435
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of neurosurgery
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Art and science
  • Gunshot wounds
  • History of medicine
  • Radiology
  • Stereotactic surgery
  • Stereotaxis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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