Neurosciences and research on chemical weapons of mass destruction in Nazi Germany

J Hist Neurosci. 2006 Sep;15(3):186-209. doi: 10.1080/09647040600658229.


As a side-product of industrial research, new chemical nerve agents (Tabun, Sarin, Soman) superior to those available to the Allied Forces were discovered in Nazi Germany. These agents were never used by Germany, even though they were produced at a large scale. This article explores the toxicological and physiological research into the mechanisms of action of these novel nerve agents, and the emergence of military research objectives in neurophysiological and neurotoxicological research. Recently declassified Allied military intelligence files document secret nerve agent research, leading to intensified research on anticholinesterase agents in the peripheral and the central nervous system. The article discusses the involvement of IG Farben scientists, educational, medical and military institutions, and of Nobel Prize laureate Richard Kuhn, director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Medical Research.

Publication types

  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • Academies and Institutes / history
  • Animals
  • Biomedical Research / history*
  • Chemical Warfare / history*
  • Chemical Warfare Agents / history*
  • Chemical Warfare Agents / toxicity
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / history*
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors / toxicity
  • Germany
  • Government Agencies / ethics
  • Government Agencies / history
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Military Medicine / ethics
  • Military Medicine / history
  • National Socialism / history*
  • Neurosciences / history*
  • World War II


  • Chemical Warfare Agents
  • Cholinesterase Inhibitors