Antonio Egas Moniz

Last revised by Daniel J Bell on 18 Jun 2021

Antonio Egas Moniz (1874-1955) 1 was a pioneering Portuguese neurologist that is notable in radiology history for his development of cerebral angiography in 1927.

He is also known as the developer of prefrontal leucotomy (now better known as a lobotomy) ​for which he received a Nobel Prize in 1949 (shared with Swiss physiologist Walter Rudolf Hess (1881-1973) 1 for his work on the neurophysiology of the diencephalon and its role in the autonomic control of the organs).

He was born on 19 November 1874 in Avanca on the Northern coast of Portugal, on his family's ancestral estates. He was christened Antonio Caetano de Abreu Freire. When he was older his godfather, gave him the name Egas Moniz, after a renowned Portuguese patrician, who had once tutored the King of Portugal 2.

He studied medicine at the University of Coimbra, the oldest university in Portugal. He later went to France for postgraduate training in neurology and psychiatry. He returned home in 1911 to head the new department of neurology at the University of Lisbon. He stayed there until until his retirement in 1944.  

In 1926 he started his experiments on cerebral angiography and presented the results at a conference in Paris in 1927. He was the first person to visualize the vessels of the brain using injected contrast media, key to the development of cerebral angiography. His initial choices of contrast media, lithium and strontium bromide, were both found to be unsuitable due to toxicity, which resulted in the death of a patient. His first successful cerebral angiography was with a 25% solution of sodium iodide as his contrast agent. He was aided in his research by Pedro Almeida Lima (1903-1985), the founder of Portuguese neurosurgery 2,4.

He published two books on cerebral angiography in 1938 and 1940.

Moniz was a brilliant polymath with interests ranging from mathematics, history, music, painting and writing, to politics.

He was a writer, speaker, and had a distinguished political career beyond medicine, serving as an MP from 1900 and as Portugal's ambassador to Spain. He retired from politics at age 51 (in 1925) in order to more fully pursue research in neurology 2. Other than cerebral angiography, his main research interests were in Parkinson disease, battle trauma neurology, and clinical neurology.

He died on 13 December 1955, at the age of 81, from a catastrophic abdominal hemorrhage.

  • pioneering work on cerebral angiography
  • Egas Moniz Museum and art collection
  • numerous books including autobiographical writings
  • political contributions

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Cases and figures

  • Figure 1: Egas Moniz
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