Nerve Surgeons' Assessment of the Role of Eduard Pernkopf's Atlas of Topographic and Applied Human Anatomy in Surgical Practice

Andrew Yee, Demetrius M. Coombs, Sabine Hildebrandt, William E. Seidelman, J. Henk Coert, Susan E. Mackinnon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND Pernkopf's atlas of Anatomy contains anatomical plates with detailed images of the peripheral nerves. Its use is controversial due to the author's association with the "Third Reich" and the potential depiction of victims of the Holocaust. The ethical implications of using this atlas for informing surgical planning have not been assessed. OBJECTIVE To (1) assess the role of Pernkopf's atlas in nerve surgeons' current practice and (2) determine whether a proposal for its ethical handling may provide possible guidance for use in surgery and surgical education. METHODS Members of American Society for Peripheral Nerve and PASSIO Education (video-based learning platform) were surveyed and 182 responses collected. The survey introduced the historical origin of Pernkopf's atlas, and respondents were asked whether they would use the atlas under specific conditions to serve as a recommendation for its ethical handling. An anatomical plate comparison between Netter's and Pernkopf's atlases was performed to compare anatomical accuracy and surgical utility. RESULTS Fifty-nine percent of respondents were aware of Pernkopf's atlas, with 13% currently using it. Aware of the historical facts, 69% were comfortable using the atlas, 15% uncomfortable, and 17% undecided. Additional information on conditions for an ethical approach to the use of the atlas led 76% of those "uncomfortable" and "undecided" to becoming "comfortable" with use. CONCLUSION While the use of Pernkopf's atlas remains controversial, a proposal detailing conditions for an ethical approach in its use provides new guidance in surgical planning and education.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-498
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Neurosurgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Anatomical Illustration
  • Anatomy Atlas
  • Ethics
  • Nerve
  • Pernkopf
  • Surgery

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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