Azañón's disease. A 19th century epidemic of neurolathyrism in Spain

S. Giménez-Roldán, P. S. Spencer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


The cultivation and consumption of grasspea (Lathyrus sativus) in Spain probably dates back centuries, especially during times of famine when the neurotoxic potential of this legume was expressed in the form of a spastic paraparesis known as neurolathyrism. Little known outside the country, the epidemic of neurolathyrism in the years following the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) came to affect more than a thousand people. In late 1872, during the Six Years Revolutionary Term, young Alejandro San Martín Satrústegui (1847–1908), then editor of the popular weekly El Siglo Médico, travelled to Azañón, a remote village in the province of Guadalajara, to clarify a so-far unknown disease. We analysed the original article published in 1873 by San Martin, as well as communications sent by El Siglo Médico readers reporting similar cases in many other Castilian provinces. San Martín's neurological findings in seven personally examined cases were astonishingly accurate; he concluded the subjects’ neurological deficits resulted from injury to the lateral columns in the lower portion of the spinal cord. Description of the clinical findings provided both by San Martín, and by the readers of El Siglo Médico, leave no doubt as to the diagnosis of neurolathyrism. However, none suspected the patient's staple food was the determinant cause of the disease. San Martín proposed the eponym Azañón's disease for lack of a better name the same year (1873) in which Cantani in Italy introduced the term lathyrism. The epidemic of neurolathyrism that affected many Castilian towns represents one of the best-documented in Europe during the last third of the 19th century.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)748-755
Number of pages8
JournalRevue Neurologique
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • Alejandro San Martín
  • Azañón's disease
  • BOAA
  • Epidemiology
  • History
  • Neurolathyrism
  • ODAP

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


Dive into the research topics of 'Azañón's disease. A 19th century epidemic of neurolathyrism in Spain'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this