Humphrey Ridley (1653-1708): 17th century evolution in neuroanatomy and selective cerebrovascular injections for cadaver dissection

Jai Deep Thakur, Ashish Sonig, Prashant Chittiboina, Imad Saeed Khan, Rishi Wadhwa, Anil Nanda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

7 Scopus citations


Humphrey Ridley, M.D. (1653-1708), is a relatively unknown historical figure, belonging to the postmedieval era of neuroanatomical discovery. He was born in the market town of Mansfield, 14 miles from the county of Nottinghamshire, England. After studying at Merton College, Oxford, he pursued medicine at Leiden University in the Netherlands. In 1688, he was incorporated as an M.D. at Cambridge. Ridley authored the first original treatise in English language on neuroanatomy, The Anatomy of the Brain Containing its Mechanisms and Physiology: Together with Some New Discoveries and Corrections of Ancient and Modern Authors upon that Subject. Ridley described the venous anatomy of the eponymous circular sinus in connection with the parasellar compartment. His methods were novel, unique, and effective. To appreciate the venous anatomy, he preferred to perform his anatomical dissections on recently executed criminals who had been hanged. These cadavers had considerable venous engorgement, which made the skull base venous anatomy clearer. To enhance the appearance of the cerebral vasculature further, he used tinged wax and quicksilver in the injections. He set up experimental models to answer questions definitively, in proving that the arachnoid mater is a separate meningeal layer. The first description of the subarachnoid cisterns, blood-brain barrier, and the fifth cranial nerve ganglion with its branches are also attributed to Ridley. This historical vignette revisits Ridley's life and academic work that influenced neuroscience and neurosurgical understanding in its infancy. It is unfortunate that most of his novel contributions have gone unnoticed and uncited. The authors hope that this article will inform the neurosurgical community of Ridley's contributions to the field of neurosurgery.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberE3
JournalNeurosurgical focus
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1 2012
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


  • Arachnoid mater
  • Cadaver dissection
  • Circular sinus
  • Cistern
  • History of medicine
  • Humphrey Ridley
  • Neuroanatomy

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