Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Charles-Pierre Denonvilliers, anatomist and reconstructive surgeon

C. Denonvilliers. US National Library of Medicine.

Denonvilliers’ fascia consists of several layers of tissue that separate the prostate and seminal vesicles from the rectum. These layers are believed to prevent the spread of cancer from the rectum to the prostate. Their embryological origin and composition have long been of interest and some controversy to surgeons operating on the pelvis, as well as to academic histologists. Described as the “plane between wind and water,” the fascia was first described in 1836 by Charles Denonvillier, a distinguished surgeon and anatomist.

Denonvilliers was born in Paris in 1808 and obtained there a medical degree in 1837, after which he pursued a career in anatomy and surgery. He gave courses of descriptive and surgical anatomy and held academic positions in both disciplines. In 1849, he was appointed to the chair of anatomy, and from 1856 to 1868, he served as chair of external pathology at the University of Paris.

As surgeon at the Necker Hospital, he performed innovative approaches to repairing hypospadias (a condition in which the urinary opening is on the underside of the penis), correcting cystocele (prolapse of the bladder into the vagina), and closing vaginal fistulae. He pioneered facial reconstruction procedures and designed a variety of specialized instruments. Author of excellent surgical texts, he received the Légion d’honneur. He died suddenly in 1872 and is remembered as an excellent teacher and innovator.

Further reading

  • Wesson M.B. Fasciae of the urogenital triangle. JAMA 1923;81(24):2024.
  • WhoNamedIt? A dictionary of medical eponyms. Charles-Pierre Denonvilliers. https://www.whonamedit.com/doctor.cfm/3233.html.

GEORGE DUNEA, MD, Editor-in-Chief

Fall 2023



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