To the Editor:
Recently, I had the opportunity to read an article written 25 years ago in AJDP by Dr. Ortiz-Hidalgo entitled “Pathology and Mythology.”1
In this article, the author explored the origin of medical terms that we use in pathology and the relations with the ancient Greek mythology. In particular, he describes lesions as syringomas, the eccrine sweat duct tumor derived from the syringium, related to the Arcadian nymph; the Delphian node, a prelaryngeal lymph node having a prognostic significance in thyroid or laryngeal cancer, related to the oracle of Delphi that foretold the future; the hermaphroditism due to an embryonal maldifferentiation of the gonads, related to Hermaphroditus, the son of Hermes and Aphrodite; and the Triton tumor, a malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor with rhabdomyomatous differentiation related to Triton, a god of the sea who was half-man and half-fish.
About the last example, in a supplemental letter to the Editor in the same issue, Dr Woodruff explained the origin of the term “Triton” tumor, born from a correspondence in 1968 between the Dr William Millet and Dr Foote, then chairman of the Pathology Department at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, about a case of a peripheral sheath tumor with rhabdomyoblastic differentiation.
The original description of this lesion was made by Pierre Masson in 1932 while describing neuromas in von Recklinghausen disease.2,3 In these articles, Masson never used the term “Triton” tumor, but he cited the experiments of Locatelli P., an Italian researcher, on limb regeneration in Tritons (salamanders of the genus Triturus).4–6 In his correspondence with Dr Foote, Dr Millet, referring to the studies of Locatelli P., called the lesion with the abbreviated term of “Triton” tumor. Finally, Woodruff et al7 introduced the term “Triton” tumor to the medical community in 1973.
In his article, Dr Ortiz-Hidalgo cites the Italian researcher as Locatelli P. 3 times in the references, and as “Pietro” Locatelli, with a male surname, in the text. Also, in the references of Masson and Woodruff, the author is cited as Locatelli P.
But, the name of the Italian researcher was not Pietro, but Piera, and she was a woman, not a man.
Piera Locatelli (Fig. 1) was born in Milan on May 9, 1900. She studied at the University of Pavia where she graduated as a medical doctor on July 1924. Scientific research-oriented, she immediately attended the Institute of Experimental Pathology and Histology of Camillo Golgi (1843–1926) (Fig. 2), the Nobel Award graduate for Medicine in 1906 and a founder of modern neuroscience. The Institute at that time was one of the most prestigious center for the biomedical research and in this stimulating milieu, the young Piera Locatelli made the early experimental studies on limb regeneration in Tritons. Between 1923 and 1926, she published a number of articles showing the influence of nerves and spinal ganglia on the regeneration of skeletal muscle tissue and the induction of the growth of both muscular and neural elements to mould a true supernumerary limb4–6 (Fig. 3). These studies procured a certain international notoriety to the author. In 1925, she gained the Lallemand Prize of the Académie des Sciences of Paris and in 1928, she attended the Institute Pasteur in Paris with a scholarship of the Rockefeller Foundation.
In a career that spanned 45 years, Piera Locatelli published 81 scientific articles in various fields of pathology, physiopathology, and oncology, and as professor of pathology and histology, she carefully cured the method of teaching about the emergent fields of the biomedical sciences.
She died in Milan, on July 16, 1975.
The man that Dr Ortiz-Hidalgo cited as “the Italian researcher” Pietro Locatelli (in full Pietro Antonio Locatelli, Bergamo 1695–Amsterdam 1764) (Fig. 4) was an Italian Baroque composer and violinist. He lived between Italy, Germany, and Holland, where he stayed for the rest of his life, leading a group of amateur musicians and teaching. He is considered a great “virtuoso” in playing violin and he is best known as the author of L'arte del violino (Amsterdam 1733), a collection of 12 violin concerts, including a series of 24 “capricci” for solo violin. His playing was particularly admired for some technical virtuosity and tuning for special effects, anticipating those of the legendary violinist Niccolò Paganini (Genoa 1782–Nice 1840).
I am writing this note at a distance of 25 years from the article of Dr Ortiz-Hidalgo reporting the studies of Piera Locatelli because I felt the need to give back the right gender to a person, a woman doctor, and a scientist who worked in a time and in a field where the women were so rare and in some way set apart or even discriminated.
1. Ortiz-Hidalgo C. Pathology and Mythology. Am J Dermatopathol. 1992;14:572–575.
2. Masson P. Recklinghasen's neurofibromatosis, sensory neuromas and motor neuromas. In: Libman Anniversary Volumes. Vol. 2. New York, NY: International; 1932:793.
3. Masson P, Martin JF. Rhabdomyomes des nerfs. Bull Assoc Fr Cancer. 1938;27:751–767.
4. Locatelli P. L'influence du systeme nerveux sur le processus de regeneration. Arch Ital Biol. 1924;34:85–102.
5. Locatelli P. Formation de Members Surnumeraires. C.R Association des Anatomistes, Zoe reunion Turin; 1925:279–282.
6. Locatelli P. Influenza del sistema nervoso sulla rigenerazione dei tessuti. Arch Di Soc Biol. 1926;8:80–98.
7. Woodruff JM, Chernik NL, Smith MC, et al. Peripheral nerve sheath tumors with rhabdomyosarcomatous differentiation (malignant “Triton” tumors). Cancer. 1973;32:426–439.