No Longer Gage: Neuroimaging A 19th-Century Brain

Portrait of Phineas Gage

In 1848, railroad foreman Phineas Gage was packing explosive powder into a hole with an iron tamping rod. The powder ignited and the blast drove the rod–over three and a half feet in length–into the man's cheek. It rammed through his brain and skull and then landed yards away. Miraculously, Gage survived.

However, according to the account of his physician, John Martyn Harlow, the man was no longer himself. Contrary to his previous character and demeanor, Gage appeared to Harlow to be "fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity." He became "capricious and vacillating," impertinent, and unwilling to take advice.

In their article, "Mapping Connectivity Damage in the Case of Phineas Gage," Harvard Medical School Professor of Radiology Ron Kilkinis and his colleagues use modern neuroimaging techniques to take a fresh look at Gage's case. Gage's skull, along with the tamping iron responsible for his injury, can be found on display in the Warren Anatomical Museum of Harvard's Countway Library of Medicine.