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Department Mourns Loss of Brain-stimulation Research Pioneer

11/28/2011: The Department announces the passing of Jose M.R. Delgado, MD, PhD. Dr. Delgado was a groundbreaking pioneer in brain-stimulation research. At the time that this work was initiated, it provided concrete evidence that neural activity produced complex behaviors.

This work paved the way for the development of deep brain stimulation treatments for psychiatric disorders, including depression and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Dr. Delgado served as Director of Neuropsychiatry and Professor of Physiology at the Yale School of Medicine. He passed away on September 5th, 2011 at the age of 96.

Dr. John Krystal, Robert L. McNeil Jr. Professor of Translational Research and Chair of the Department of Psychiatry, noted, "Dr. Delgado's legacy at Yale and impact on the field of neuroscience are enormous. His identification of brain circuits controlling behavior, particularly aggression, stands as one of the most sophisticated and earliest examples of this type of work."

Dr. Delgado's groundbreaking research demonstrated that by stimulating different regions of the brain one could move limbs and induce emotions such as fear or rage. Some of his most extensive studies focused on regions of the brain that regulated aggression.

A 1965 New York Times article describes the best-known demonstration of his research:

"Afternoon sunlight poured over the high wooden barriers into the ring, as the brave bull bore down on the unarmed “matador” – a scientist who had never before faced a fighting bull. But the charging animals horns never reached the man behind the red cape. Moments before that could happen, Dr. Jose Delgado, the scientist, pressed a button on a small radio transmitter in his hand and the bull braked to a halt. Then he pressed another button on the transmitter, and the bull obediently turned to the right and trotted away."

Born in Spain, in 1915, Dr. Delgado earned a medical degree from the University of Madrid and a PhD from the Ramon y Cajal Institute, also in Madrid. He began a fellowship at Yale's School of Medicine in the 1940s and shortly thereafter accepted a position in the school's Department of Physiology.

In 1969 Dr. Delgado published Physical Control of the Mind: Toward a Psychocivilized Society. In 1974, at the request of Spain's Minister of Health, he returned to his birth country to help build a new medical school. Dr. Delgado was a founder and Fellow Emeritus of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

Jose M.R. Delgado, MD, PhD
Dr. Jose M. R. Delgado, Spanish-born neurophysiologist and associate professor of physiology at the Yale University School of Medicine, with a bull in a Spanish corral. The bull, with electrodes implanted in its brain, responded to radio signals from a hand-held transmitter. (1965)