Harold G. Wolff Lecture Award
Dr. Harold G. Wolff was born in New York City in 1898. He received his medical education at Harvard and trained in psychiatry at Johns Hopkins. In 1932, he was recruited as the first chairman of the new division of Neurology at New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center. His emphasis at the time was on protective and defensive reaction patterns of individual behavior that lead to disease, and the meaning of precipitative events and environmental setting in illness. His particular interest was in the personality features and reactions of migraineurs.
Dr. Wolff ’s appointment to that pioneering post was based on his broad education which included training in neurology and cerebral circulation at Harvard; experience in Austria and America on the humoral transmission of nervous activity; study in psychiatry at Johns Hopkins; work with Pavlov in Russia in his Conditioned Reflex Laboratory; and, study with Desmond Curran on delirium. He went on to become one of the most experienced clinical and experimental neurologists in the United States serving as editor of The Archives of Neurology, and President of the American Neurological Association. Dr. Wolff continued as Chairman of the Department of Neurology at Cornell until his death in 1962.
Dr. Wolff’s enormous energy and curiosity led him to question many procedures and techniques then in use and to institute many revolutionary ideas. Early in his career, he began to clarify the neurogenic control of vasoconstriction and vasodilatation in headache. He began to build his hypotheses of stress and disease, particularly on migraineurs. His meticulous experimentation contributed to the understanding of migraine. He showed the biphasic vascular reactions of vasoconstriction and vasodilatation and demonstrated that both intracranial and extracranial structures are involved in the reaction pattern. Most importantly, he discovered neurokinin, the neurohumor elaborated in the tissues resulting from excitation in the central nervous system. His last hypothesis stating that disordered vasoactivity in this syndrome reflected an adaptive response to a threat to the integrity of the brain itself would have been put to further test had he lived longer. He was ahead of his time in linking the relationship between man’s goals, his methods of achieving them, and the conflicts thus engendered as a direct link to many aspects of disease, tissue damage, and death.
It is a tribute to Dr. Wolff that many years after his death articles still appear about him and his research. In the late 1950’s, he established an institute to study human ecology and anticipated behavioral methods for treatment of headache that have only recently been accepted widely. Harold G. Wolff viewed the study of man in his setting as especially crucial in determining the fine line between health and disease. Much of his work was concerned with the idea that during or following circumstances perceived as chronically threatening or unacceptable, primitive patterns of behavior and physiologic activity are evoked, which may produce when experienced over time, patterns of disease.