• The OAD Clinic

The Brain and Addiction - Part II

Updated: Jun 5

Reptilians Among Us

Late in the morning in April 1899 Christfried was crossing the cobbled central square of Erlangen, in Bayern. His pace was fast, firm and resolute. He had finally made his decision and like a man on a mission, he knew exactly where he was going. He will be heading south, far, far away south.

The air was fresh and everything seemed to be as bright as his mood was. The river Regnitz was also flowing fast, as if in a rush to meet the Schwabach towards the Rhine. Christfried Jakob [1] had accepted the position of director the neurobiology laboratory of the Hospicio de las Mercedes in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

It had been a bold decision to leave the security of his current position as first assistant to professor Adolf von Strumplell at the University of Erlangen, where he trained as a doctor, published his first books, then went on to teach Neurology to the new generation of doctors to be.

But his boldness was fuelled by his youth and the opportunity as well. He would be the boss now, the captain of his ship. His main line of work and passion was to study the anatomy and physiology of the human brain, and in order to continue his research he needed more specimens. He needed more bodies to perform autopsies and study the brains.

So, strange as it sounds, one of the main motivators for making his decision was the access to around 300 autopsies per year. Far more that he could have ever dreamt in Erlangen. It was a centre of excellence for medicine and technology, and Christfried also decided to make a name for himself at the same time that Flechsig, Kölliker, Nissl, Brodmann, Vogt made theirs in Germany, Ramon y Cajal in Spain, Camillo Golgi in Italy, Dejerine in France, Hughlings Jackson and Sherrington in the United Kingdom and were laying the foundations of modern neurobiology and clinical neurology.

Christfried was 32, young and confident. He had published two brain maps [2] [3] that included detailed drawings of the internal brain structures and neural pathways. These maps were widely known in Paris, Vienna and other medical centres of excellence in Europe. Professor Strumpell had forwarded his first book edited in 1985 before he even turned 30. No doubt Christfried Jakob was a great promise in the field.

A chilly winter morning he arrived in Buenos Aires to take over his position as lead of the neurobiology laboratory, but also as full professor of biology at the Faculty of Philosophy. Yes, philosophy. Christfried was an intellectual of his time, versed not just in neurobiology but also in philosophy, arts and a skilled pianist as well. It was a time where scientists, philosophers, and writers looked at the brain, the same way we look at the cosmos today.

They were looking for answers to the same old questions: who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going?

Who would have thought that seventy years later I would train as a psychiatrist in the same laboratory by disciples who cherished and preserved his legacy. These days Jakob is known mostly for his contribution to the discovery of Creutzfeldt-Jakob (CJD) disease [4] [5] (spongiform encephalopathy) also known as mad cow disease. His complete works include twenty books and over 180 scientific papers. Jakob stated that amphibia are the first species in which a primitive cortex appear, culminating the evolutionary process in the human cortex.[6]

He thought that the supreme level was what he called the neoneuronal, which includes two sectors: the limbic cortex (mostly related to internal systems activity), and the lateral cortex (processing environmental stimuli). The lateral cortex (new brain in picture) integrates external and internal stimuli as individual experience. It is where the ego and personality reside. As early as in 1911 Jakob claimed that “Love and hunger arise from the limbic cortex.” Visceral sensations reach mamillary bodies through the brain steam, and from there via Vicq D’Azyr fascicle project to the Thalamus to finally end in the Cingulate cortex.

It is amazing to know that back then, Jakob described clearly the basic concepts of the limbic system functions, some 27 years before James Papez, and 45 years before MacLean’s Triune Brain [7] evolutionary theory changed Jakob’s “visceral brain” to Reptilian Brain. At a time when fancy positron scans, computerised tomographic scans, artificial intelligence, not even phones or computers existed, good old Jakob would have known exactly where Jon’s deep emotions, instinctive reactions and impulsivity were coming from.

Same as Jon, we all have gut feelings at some point in our lives. The difference is that most of us are not guided just by “gut feelings” or intuitions, but by some sort of rational thinking. Sort of rational I said…

That strong instinctual feeling, that intuition, the one for which we don’t have no words, but we know it is coming from deep inside. [8]

110 years ago, no doubt Jakob would have related Jon’s gut feeling based decisions were linked to his “Visceral or Reptilian Brain”. Perhaps he would have said that Jon’s reptilian brain was taking over, and the most highly evolved human part of it (neocortex) has been damaged by cocaine.

So the Reptilians are among us after all…

Dr Oscar D'Agnone, MD, MRCPsych.

Medical Director


[1] Orlando. J. C., La vida y obra de Christofredo Jakob. Electroneurobiología 2 (# 1) pp. 499-607, 1995 [2] Atlas der Gesunden und Kranken Nervensystems nebst Grundriss der Anatomie, Pathologie und Therapie desselben. Mit einem Vorwort von Prof. Dr. Ad. v. Strümpell. Lehmann, München, 1895. [3] Atlas der Klinischen Untersuchungsmethodem nebst Grundriss der Klinischen Diagnostik und der speziellen Pathologie und Therapie der inneren Krankheiten. J. F. Lehmann. München. 1897. [4] https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Creutzfeldt-Jakob-Disease-Fact-Sheet [5] Manix, Marc; Kalakoti, Piyush; Henry, Miriam; Thakur, Jai; Menger, Richard; Guthikonda, Bharat; Nanda, Anil (2015-11-01). "Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease: updated diagnostic criteria, treatment algorithm, and the utility of brain biopsy". Neurosurgical Focus. 39 (5): E2. [6] Lazaros C. Triarhou, Centenary of Christfried Jakob's discovery of the visceral brain: An unheeded precedence in affective neuroscience. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 32 (# 5), pp. 984-1000, 2008 pmid= 18479750 [7] The embodied brain: towards a radical embodied cognitive neuroscience. Julian Kiverstein and Mark Miller, Front. Hum. Neurosci., 06 May 2015 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2015.00237 [8] Since biblical times it was believed that the stomach or the heart were the seat of emotions, and Jakob in 1911 showed where about it resonate in our brains.


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