The tale of Phineas Gage, digitally remastered


Ratiu P, Talos I-F, Haker S, Lieberman D, Everett P. The tale of Phineas Gage, digitally remastered. J Neurotrauma. 2004;21 (5) :637-43.

Date Published:

2004 May


The injury of Phineas Gage has fueled research on and fascination with the localization of cerebral functions in the past century and a half. Most physicians and anatomists believed that Gage sustained a largely bilateral injury to the frontal lobes. However, previous studies seem to have overlooked a few less obvious, but essential details. This has led us to reanalyze the injury using three-dimensional reconstruction and quantitative computer-aided techniques and to propose a new biomechanical model, in order to determine the location and extent of the injury and explain Gage's improbable survival. Unlike previous studies on this subject, our findings are based on computer-generated three-dimensional reconstructions of a thin-slice computed tomography scan (CAT) of Phineas Gage's skull. The results of our image analysis were corroborated with the clinical findings, thoroughly recorded by Dr. Harlow in 1848, as well as with a systematic examination of the original skull specimen. Our results show that the cerebral injury was limited to the left frontal lobe, did not extend to the contralateral side, did not affect the ventricular system, and did not involve vital intracranial vascular structures. Although modern neuroscience has perhaps outgrown the speculations prompted by this famous case, it is still a living part of the medical folklore and education. Setting the record straight based on clinical reasoning, observation of the physical evidence, and sound quantitative computational methods is more than mere minutia and of interest for the broad medical community.
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