Corneille Heymans

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Corneille Heymans

Corneille Jean François Heymans or Corneel (Jan Frans) Heymans (born March 28, 1892 in Gent , East Flanders , Belgium ; † July 18, 1968 in Knokke , West Flanders , Belgium) was a Belgian pharmacologist .

From 1930 he worked as a professor of pharmacology and director of the Jean François Heymans Institute at the University of Ghent . The focus of his scientific work was the regulation of the respiration of mammals and their influence by the nervous system , by circulatory and metabolic processes as well as by pharmacological agents . His research results are still of fundamental importance for the pharmacological treatment of circulatory and respiratory disorders. " For the discovery of the role of the sine and Aortenmechanismus in respiratory regulation ", he received the 1938 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine .


Corneille Heymans was the eldest of eight children of the Belgian pharmacology professor Jean-François Heymans and his German-born wife Marie-Henriette nee. Henning. The father founded the first Belgian Pharmacological Institute in Ghent, which was inaugurated in 1902 and is now called Heymans Instituut after him .

Corneille Heymans attended St. Lievenscollege in Gent, St. Jozefscollege in Turnhout and St. Barbaracollege in Gent. He then studied medicine from 1911 at the University of Ghent. During his studies he was a member of an association of the Katholiek Vlaams Hoogstudentenverbond . During the First World War he served from 1914 to 1918 as a volunteer first in the infantry , then as a field artillery officer on the Yser front. Heymans received his doctorate in 1920 and subsequently worked at the Collège de France in Paris under Eugène Gley , at the University of Lausanne under Maurice Arthus , at the University of Vienna under Hans Horst Meyer , at the University College London under Ernest Starling and at the Western Reserve Medical School under Carl J. Wiggers . From 1922 he lectured in pharmacology at Ghent University and in 1930 took over the professorship in pharmacology from his father. At the same time he was appointed head of the department of pharmacology, pharmacodynamics and toxicology and director of the JF Heymans Institute .

In his scientific work, Heymans focused on regulating the respiration of mammals and worked closely with his father. The experiments were carried out primarily on dogs, but also on human subjects. In 1938 Heymans was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Due to the outbreak of World War II and the occupation of Belgium, Heymans was unable to attend the ceremony in Stockholm in person . It was not until January 1941 that the award was presented to him by the Swedish ambassador in a lecture hall at Ghent University.

During the Second World War, Heymans was partially suspected of collaborating with the German occupiers. Following a formal indictment in 1944, he was publicly reprimanded by the Belgian Minister for Education and released from teaching for several months and placed under house arrest. Reasons for this could be his mother's German origins, the fact that his father studied in Berlin, and Heyman's active advocacy of Dutch as the language of instruction at the French-speaking University of Ghent. Heymans also worked with the German authorities as part of his work for the Belgian Relief Committee and traveled to Berlin in 1941. Despite the pressure that was on him in Belgium, Heymans decided against the professorship offered by Sidney Farber at Harvard University . Heymans was later officially exonerated and recognized by the Belgian government for his work for the Belgian Relief Committee.

In addition to teaching at Ghent University, Heymans has given guest lectures at numerous universities around the world. In the USA he was Herter Lecturer at New York University in 1934 , Lecturer of the Dunham Memorial Foundation at Harvard University in 1937 , and Hanna Foundation Lecturer at Case Western Reserve University and Greensfelder Memorial Lecturer at the University of Chicago . He was also the Trinity College in Dublin in 1939 Lecturer of the Purser Memorial Foundation .


In the course of his research, Corneille Heymans mainly dealt with the regulation of the respiration of mammals and their influence by the nervous system , by circulatory and metabolic processes as well as by pharmacological agents . In particular, he devoted himself to elucidating the body structures involved in breathing regulation and the influence of various physiological parameters.

Together with his father, he discovered localized chemoreceptors in the aortic arch , through which an increased carbon dioxide concentration ( hypercapnia ) or a reduced oxygen concentration ( hypoxia ) is perceived in the blood and transmitted to the respiratory center via the vagus nerve , resulting in an increase in breathing activity. They were also able to show that a decrease in carbon dioxide content or an increase in blood pressure lead to an inhibition of breathing. At the beginning of the 1930s, Corneille Heymans and his colleagues demonstrated the presence of chemoreceptors in the carotid sinus in addition to the baroreceptors already known there, and were thus able to prove that the regulatory function of the sinus region includes not only influencing the circulation but also regulating breathing. In later work he and his group succeeded in assigning the receptor functions he described to certain cells and thus in the morphological identification of the receptors he had discovered functionally.

The work of Corneille Heymans led to a fundamental revision and expansion of the previously applicable model of respiratory physiology , which had been formulated in particular by the physiologist Hans Winterstein as the "reaction theory of respiratory regulation". His discoveries are of fundamental clinical importance in anesthesia and in emergency and intensive care medicine for the pharmacological treatment of circulatory and respiratory disorders.


Heymans was President of the International Union of Physiological Sciences and the International Council of Pharmacologists . He was also a member or honorary member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences , the British Royal Society of Arts , the Académie des sciences , the Académie de Médecine, the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences , the American Philosophical Society and the New York Academy of Sciences .

He was awarded an honorary professorship from the University of Montevideo and an honorary doctorate from the Universities of Utrecht , Leuven , Montpellier , Turin , Santiago de Chile , Lima , Bogotá , Rio de Janeiro , Algiers , Paris , Münster , Bordeaux , Toulouse and Georgetown University .

Heymans has received several awards for his services, including the 1938 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for discovering the role of the sinus and aortic mechanisms in breathing regulation . In 1962 he was awarded the Schmiedeberg plaque by the German Pharmacological Society . Other international honors include the Bourceret Prize of the Académie de Médecine in Paris (1930), the Monthyon Prize of the Académie des Sciences (1934), the Pius XI Prize of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (1938), the Burgi Prize of the University of Bern and the de Cyon Prize (1931) from the University of Bologna . Heymans also received numerous awards in his home country, including the Alvarenga Prize of the Royal Academy of Medicine, the Gluge Prize of the Royal Academy of Sciences, the Quinquennial Prize (1931–1935) for Medicine from the Belgian Government, and the Alumni Prize for Medicine from Belgian University Foundation.

For his services during the First World War, Heymans was awarded the Belgian War Cross 1914–1918 and the Fire Cross 1914–1918. He was the bearer of the Swedish North Star Order and Grand Officer of the Leopold Order , he was also awarded the Commander-in-Chief of the Papal New Year's Eve and Commander of the Knightly Order of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem .

In 1970 the Heymans lunar crater was named after him.


In the course of his research, Heymans published around 800 articles in specialist journals and several monographs. His most important works include:

  • The sinus carotidien et les autres zones vasosensibles réflexogènes: leur rôle en physiologie, en pharmacologie et en pathologie . Leuven, Paris 1929.
  • Le sinus carotidien et la zone homologue cario-aortique: physiology - pharmacology - pathology - clinique . With Jean-Jacques Bouckaert and P. Regniers, Paris 1933.
  • Sensité réflexogène des vaisseaux aux excitants chimiques . With Jean-Jacques Bouckaert, Paris 1934.
  • Le center respiratoire . With Daniel Cordier , Paris 1935.
  • Survival and revival of nervous tissues after arrest of circulation . In: Physiological reviews 30 (1950), ISSN  0031-9333 , pp. 375-392.
  • New aspects of blood pressure regulation . With G. van den Heuvel. In: Circulation , 4 (1951), ISSN  0009-7322 , pp. 581-586.
  • Pharmacological effects on self-regulation of blood pressure . In: Naunyn-Schmiedebergs Archive for Experimental Pathology and Pharmacology , 216 (1952), pp. 114-140. doi : 10.1007 / BF00248065
  • Action of drugs on carotid sinus and body . In: Pharmacological reviews , 7 (1955), ISSN  0031-6997 , pp. 119-142.
  • Reflexogenic Areas of the Cardiovascular System . With Eric Neil. London 1958.
  • Vasomotor control and the regulation of blood pressure . With B. Folkow. In: Alfred P. Fishman and Dickinson Woodruff Richards (Eds.): Circulation of the Blood: Men and Ideas . Oxford University Press, New York 1964.

Heymans was also the publisher and editor-in-chief of the specialist journal Archives Internationales de Pharmacodynamie et de Thérapie , which his father founded in collaboration with Eugène Gley.


From 1921 Heymans worked with the ophthalmologist Dr. Berthe May Heymans married. The marriage had five children. Her eldest son died of meningitis in 1940 at the age of eighteen .


  • Renée C. Fox: In the Belgian Château . Chapter: A Nobel Laureate, His “Institute-Home” and “Laboratory Family” , Ivan R. Dee, Chicago 1993, ISBN 1-56663-057-6 , pp. 68-86.
  • Ragnar Granite : Obituary Corneille Heymans . In: International journal of neuropharmacology . 8, 1969, ISSN  0375-9458 , pp. 85-86.
  • Ralf-Dieter Hofheinz: Heymans, Corneille Jean François. In: Werner E. Gerabek , Bernhard D. Haage, Gundolf Keil , Wolfgang Wegner (eds.): Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2005, ISBN 3-11-015714-4 , p. 593.
  • Carl F. Schmidt: Professor Corneille Heymans, Nobel Laureate in Physiology and Medicine for 1938 . In: The Scientific Monthly . 1939, Vol. 49, No. 6, ISSN  0096-3771 , pp. 576-579.

Web links

Commons : Corneille Heymans  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Fox, Renée C .: In the Belgian Château . P. 69.
  2. History of the institute ( Memento of the original from June 30, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was automatically inserted and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. (Dutch) @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  3. ^ A b c Renée C. Fox: In the Belgian Château . P. 70.
  4. ^ Life : A discovery about blood pressure . November 27, 1950 ( limited preview in Google Book Search).
  5. ^ Fox, Renée C .: In the Belgian Château . P. 71 f., 83 f.
  6. Corneille Heymans in the Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature of the IAU (WGPSN) / USGS