History of the 'geste antagoniste' sign in cervical dystonia

J Neurol. 2012 Aug;259(8):1580-4. doi: 10.1007/s00415-011-6380-7. Epub 2012 Jan 11.


The geste antagoniste is a voluntary maneuver that temporarily reduces the severity of dystonic posture or movements. It is a classical feature of focal and particularly cervical dystonia. However, the precise historical aspects of geste antagoniste still remain obscure. The goals of this review were (1) to clarify the origin of the geste antagoniste sign; (2) to identify the factors that led to its diffusion in the international literature; (3) to follow the evolution of that term across the twentieth century. We used medical and neurological French, German and English literature of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the PubMed database by entering the terms geste antagoniste, antagonistic gesture and sensory trick. The geste antagoniste sign is a legacy of the Paris Neurological School of the end of the nineteenth century. The term was introduced by Meige and Feindel in their 1902 book on tics, written in the vein of their master, Brissaud, who first described this sign in 1893. The almost immediate translations of this book by Giese into German and Kinnier Wilson into English contributed to the rapid spreading of the term geste antagoniste, which is still in use worldwide today. The term antagonistic gesture is the translation proposed by Kinnier Wilson, which also led to the use of the term geste antagonistique. The geste antagoniste sign has long been considered a solid argument for the psychogenic origins of dystonia until the 1980s when Marsden made strong arguments for its organic nature.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • Gestures*
  • History, 17th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Neurologic Examination / history*
  • Terminology as Topic*
  • Torticollis / history*
  • Torticollis / physiopathology