Pioneers of Modern Medicine

The History of the Wolff–Parkinson–White Syndrome

Melvin M. Scheinman


While Drs. Wolff, Parkinson, and White fully described the syndrome in 1930, prior case reports had described the essentials. Over the ensuing century this syndrome has captivated the interest of anatomists, clinical cardiologists, and cardiac surgeons. Stanley Kent described lateral muscular connections over the atrioventricular (AV) groove which he felt were the normal AV connections. The normal AV connections were, however, clearly described by His and Tawara. True right-sided AV connections were initially described by Wood et al., while Öhnell first described left free wall pathways. David Scherf is thought to be the first to describe our current understanding of the pathogenesis of the WPW syndrome in terms of a re-entrant circuit involving both the AV node–His axis as well as the accessory pathway. This hypothesis was not universally accepted, and many theories were applied to explain the clinical findings. The basics of our understanding were established by the brilliant work of Pick, Langendorf, and Katz who by using careful deductive analysis of ECGs were able to define the basic pathophysiological processes. Subsequently, Wellens and Durrer applied invasive electrical stimulation to the heart in order to confirm the pathophysiological processes. Sealy and his colleagues at Duke University Medical Center were the first to successfully surgically divide an accessory pathway and ushered in the modern era of therapy for these patients. Morady and Scheinman were the first to successfully ablate an accessory pathway (posteroseptal) using high-energy direct-current shocks. Subsequently Jackman, Kuck, Morady, and a number of groups proved the remarkable safety and efficiency of catheter ablation for pathways in all locations using radiofrequency energy. More recently, Gollob et al. first described the gene responsible for a familial form of WPW. The current ability to cure patients with WPW is due to the splendid contributions of individuals from diverse disciplines throughout the world.

Rambam Maimonides Med J 2012;3(3):e0019