Vladimir Lenin’s Stoney Brain

By Neuroskeptic | February 25, 2013 3:17 pm

There’s been a lot of discussion lately about Einstein’s brain.

Less well-known, but equally fascinating, is the case of Lenin‘s cerebrum – for just like Albert, the founder of the Soviet Union was fated to end up as a series of preserved slices.

Lenin died of a series of strokes at the young age of 53. By the age of 50, he was suffering from the onset of cognitive decline, usually seen in much older people. The legendary orator began to struggle to find the words to express himself. His first stroke, at age 52, left him disabled, and the third killed him. It’s rare for this to happen to someone is his early fifties.

During his autopsy, it was found that the blood vessels around Lenin’s brain were heavily calcified – essentially, they had hardened, and narrowed, due to a build-up of minerals and fats. This is known as atherosclerosis and, although it happens to all of us as we age, Lenin suffered from an unusually severe, and early, case. It was noted during the postmortem that tapping the vessels with a pair of metal tweezers produced a sound as if they were made of stone.

But why? Lenin was a non-smoker, took regular exercise, and drank little – so he had none of the known risk-factors for atherosclerosis. Moreover, it’s unusual for the brain to be selectively affected; the vessels in the rest of Lenin’s body were only moderately calcified.

A team of neurologists led by UCLA’s Harry Vinters have suggested a possible answer in a new paper: Vessels of Stone: Lenin’s “Circulatory Disturbance of the Brain”. They point to a recently-discovered disorder that causes selective atherosclerosis of the blood vessels in the legs, caused by a mutation in the gene NT5E.

Vinters and his colleagues suggest that Lenin might have had a similar genetic problem, but one that affected primarily the brain. Lenin’s father and siblings (seemingly) suffered circulatory diseases as well; indeed his father died at almost exactly the same age, in a similar fashion. Still, they admit that such a genetic disorder remains speculative at present.

The more traditional explanation for Lenin’s neurological decline is syphilis, but it’s not clear that he ever had the disease. He was treated for it during his final years, but this may have been a long-shot attempt by his doctors to save his life, in the absence of a proper diagnosis.

ResearchBlogging.orgVinters, H., Lurie, L., & Mackowiak, P. (2013). Vessels of Stone: Lenin’s “Circulatory Disturbance of the Brain” Human Pathology DOI: 10.1016/j.humpath.2012.11.017

CATEGORIZED UNDER: history, papers, select, Uncategorized
  • Buddy199

    Good riddance. Then again, he was followed by Stalin so what’s the old saying about better the devil you know?

    • kat Ulyanov

      Sorry u felt lenin was so evil, to say good riddance to him being dead remeber thatbefore lenins revolution 98% of the people in russia had NO EDUCATION OF ANY KIND, HE ESTABLISHED EDUCATION FOR ALL for 1 example. History shows the “ridding” of lenin was not so good after all. If he wouldnt have passed so early, stalin would have never been able to take power. Good riddance to stalin. Reagen policies destroyed the middle class, he did more damage to the american middle class then lenin ever did to russia. that capitalist pig shit for brains,Goodbye, yet long live lenin

  • http://msnlv.com/ Cosmic man

    Why doctors don’t reveal the true status of Lenin on the syphilis?

  • http://skadhitheravernerblog.wordpress.com/ Skadhi_the_Raverner

    I wonder if its possible to identify from Lenin’s brain whether he was ‘atypical’.

    Because people say things like “Lenin was a psychopath!” without any further evidence than that they don’t like him (for the obvious reasons). If his brain is preserved without some kind of postmortem distortion, then it ought to confirm or deny such speculation.

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  • DS

    Hi Neuroskeptic

    I hope this post is not an example of the Neuroskeptic to come.

    Don’t loose your groove.

    Also, posting comments is more cumbersome than on the old blog. I am hunting for a Disqus login page. Where the heck is it?

    ………..

    Finally found it, with no help from this page. Whew!!!!

    Friendly input from a reader that appreciates your blog.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Yeah Disqus is a bit annoying. But you’ll get used to it (I have…mostly).

      Re: the content, I’m aware there’s been rather more ‘nice’ posts like this than ‘nasty’ critical posts since the move, but it’s a coincidence; there has not been much to criticize in the past week… but the next post is a spiky one so don’t worry.

  • John H.

    Possibilities …

    Radiology. 1979 Jan;130(1):159-64.

    Computed tomography in oculocraniosomatic disease (Kearns-Sayre syndrome).

    Seigel RS, Seeger JF, Gabrielsen TO, Allen RJ.

    Abstract

    Computed tomography (CT) in patients with oculocraniosomatic disease (OCSD) or Kearns-Sayre syndrome has not been previously reported to the authors’ knowledge. CT scans were performed in 6 children and 3 adults with OCSD. Abnormalities in children included: intracranial calcifications (4 patients); white matter disease (3 patients); cerebellar hypoplasia (1 patient); and scattered areas of decreased density in the cerebellar hemispheres, mesencephalon, and thalamus (1 patient). CT scans were normal in all adults. OCSD should be considered in the differential diagnosis in patients with intracranial calcification and white matter disease.

    PMID: 758643 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

    Neuroradiology. 1985;27(1):32-7.

    Prevalences of CT-detected calcification in the basal ganglia in idiopathic hypoparathyroidism and pseudohypoparathyroidism.

    Illum F, Dupont E.

    Abstract

    Sixteen patients with idiopathic hypoparathyroidism (IHP) and eight patients with pseudohypoparathyroidism (PHP) were examined by CT scan of the brain.Calcification in the basal ganglia was observed in 11 patients with IHP (69%) and in all eight patients with PHP. Of the 19 patients with basal gangliacalcification, nine had calcification in the cerebral cortex (47%), and four had calcification in the cerebellum (21%). Observation of basal ganglia calcification on CT gave rise to suspicion of IHP or PHP in three patients (12%). The remaining patients were examined at varying time after diagnosis. Since arrest in growth of calcification after institution of treatment has never been proven, the reported prevalences of calcification may not be valid to the situation at the time of diagnosis.

    PMID: 3974864 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

  • Semigrounded

    You’ve exchanged depth for frequency a bit, but I’m guessing that’ll self-correct once you get settled and your page-views levels out. Keep up the good work.

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

      Well, my pageviews are actually a lot better than I’d expected, even this early. So there will be even less linkbait than I’d planned ;) The next post will be deep. I’ve had to dust off my copy of Ulysses to write it, no less.

      • Semigrounded

        Nice. And congratulations on the move.

  • Semigrounded

    Jeez, look how chiseled my default profile picture is. I could be in a De Beers commercial.

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Neuroskeptic

No brain. No gain.

About Neuroskeptic

Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.

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