The history of lupus erythematosus. From Hippocrates to Osler

Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 1988 Apr;14(1):1-14.


Hippocrates (460-375 BC) was the first to describe cutaneous ulcers under the heading of herpes esthiomenos. From what we can tell, Herbernus of Tours was the first to apply the term lupus to a skin disease in 916 AD. Following this, a number of terms including lupus, noli me tangere, and herpes esthiomenos were used to describe cutaneous ulcers. Willan (1757-1812) expanded the classification of skin diseases using the term herpes for vesicular diseases and lupus for destructive and ulcerative diseases of the face. The first clear description of lupus erythematosus was by Biett and was reported by his student Cazenave under the term erythema centrifugum in 1833. In 1846 Hebra, under the name of Seborrhea Congestiva described disc-shaped patches and introduced the butterfly simile for the malar rash. In 1851 Cazenave renamed erythema centrifugum, calling it lupus erythematosus and gave a classic description of discoid lupus erythematosus. In 1872 Kaposi subdivided lupus into the discoid and systemic forms and introduced the concept of systemic disease with a potentially fatal outcome. Hutchinson alluded to the photosensitive nature of the rash and may have provided the earliest description of what is now called annular subacute cutaneous lupus. In 1894 Payne used quinine in the treatment of patients with LE and postulated the presence of a vascular disturbance. In 1902, Sequira and Balean published a large series of patients with discoid and systemic LE and provided clinical and pathologic details of a young woman who died of glomerulonephritis. In 1904, Jadassohn published an exhaustive review of discoid and systemic LE, including clinical features and pathologic findings. Between 1895 and 1904 Sir William Osler published 29 cases of what was termed the erythema group of diseases. Perhaps his major contribution was to show that skin diseases could be accompanied by a variety of systemic manifestations. In retrospect most of his patients suffered from diseases other than SLE and it was only in his 1904 paper that two cases with SLE were described. He did not acknowledge this diagnosis in his cases and we share the viewpoint that his contribution to the study of SLE has been overemphasized.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article

MeSH terms

  • History, 15th Century
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, Ancient
  • Humans
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Cutaneous / pathology
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / classification
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / history*
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / pathology
  • Terminology as Topic

Personal name as subject

  • None Hippocrates
  • W Osler