Wagner-Jauregg, Julius

Wagner-Jauregg, Julius (1857-1940) was an Austrian psychiatrist and neurologist who discovered an effective treatment for general paresis, also called syphilitic meningoencephalitis. He won the 1927 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for this discovery.

Born in Wels, Austria, in 1857, Wagner-Jauregg studied medicine at the University of Vienna and at the Institute of General and Experimental Pathology. He earned his doctorate in 1880. In 1883. he joined the psychiatric staff at the University of Vienna, despite having no background in that relatively new field. He demonstrated a talent for it, however, and became an instructor in neurology in 1885 and in psychiatry in 1887. In 1889, he was appointed professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of Graz, and from 1893 until his retirement in 1928 held the same position at the University of Vienna.


Wagner-Jauregg's early research, both at Vienna and Graz, involved the function of the thyroid gland. He was one of the first to believe that cretinism (a usually congenital condition characterized by stunted growth and severe mental retardation) was caused by a malfunctioning thyroid. Other studies showed a connection between goiter (an enlargement of the thyroid gland due to its being too active or not active enough) and iodine deficiency. At his suggestion, the Austrian government began selling iodized salt as preventative treatment in areas where goiter was most prevalent.

Wagner-Jauregg's most remarkable work was in the treatment of general paresis, or creeping paralysis as it was known then. In the middle to late 1800's, he had noticed that patients with certain long-term mental illnesses improved after having a fever. Wagner-Jauregg tried several infectious agents with only limited success. In 1917, he began injecting patients with malaria-infected blood, choosing that because it could be controlled with quinine. The results were consistently good, often resulting in total remission of the paresis. This form of therapy is no longer used, but it led to the development of shock therapy.

Wagner-Jauregg also was instrumental in establishing laws for the certification and protection of the mentally ill that are still in use in Austria.