William John Adie

William John Adie (1886 – 1935)

William John Adie (1886-1935) was an Australian neurologist.

Best known for describing the tonically dilated pupil (Adie pupil) associated with absent deep tendon reflexes (Adie syndrome) and his description of narcolepsy

  • Born 31 October 1886, Geelong, Victoria, Australia
  • Left school at the age of 13 to support his family after his father passed away in 1899
  • Gained university entrance after an employer recognised Adie’s capacity for learning and offered to fund his further education through evening classes
  • Dr Arthur South an physician in Geelong inspired Adie to embark on a career in medicine, however the high cost of medical education in Melbourne led Adie to move to the UK at the age of 20 with the aid of his uncle who paid for a £19 one-way ticket to the UK
  • Adie obtained his medical degree in 1911 from the University of Edinburgh and was awarded the McCosh Graduates scholarship
  • During World War I Adie was a field physician and took part in the retreat from Mons, but luckily for Adie a timely bout of measles kept him from the battle where his regiment was decimated by the enemy
  • Adie improvised a mask of clothing soaked in urine during the early gas attacks in World War I saving a number of soldiers lives before taking charge of the 7th General Hospital as a consultant in the management of head injuries
  • In 1916 Adie was a medical registrar at Charling Cross Hospital, London and Royal London Ophthalmic Hospital where he alongside Macdonald Critchley described in frontal lobe disease ‘‘a syndrome of forced grasping and groping’’, and lucidly described narcolepsy, with important papers on pituitary tumours and disseminated sclerosis
  • Adie earned several honours including the University of Edinburgh gold medal
  • Adie was one of the first to nullify the misconstrued association between the Argyll Robertson pupil of syphilis and the tonic pupil
  • Most notably, in 1931 Adie in combination with observations from previous colleagues published 6 case reports of his own (44 reports including previous observations) in the British Medical Journal a clinical syndrome involving a tonic pupil with diminished or absent deep tendon reflexes – eventually given the eponym Adie syndrome with the hallmark Adie pupil
  • Although controversially named Adie syndrome as previous colleague had reported similar findings, it was Adie’s dogmatic style and tireless dedication to the syndrome including his exemplary essay for the Brain journal that eventually led to the syndrome being recognised as Adie syndrome
  • Around the same time in 1931 Gordon Holmes reported 54 cases similar to Adie’s prompting Bramwell in 1936 to propose Holmes-Adie syndrome as a disease synonym
  • In 1932 Adie was a co-founder of the Association of British Neurologists; first meeting 28 July at the house of Gordon Morgan Holmes
  • Adie resigned from his work 3 years later in 1935 after a recurrent bouts of angina pectoris and died that same year 17 March 1935 from a myocardial infarct

He was honoured in his hometown of Geelong, Australia in a long obituary entitled “Geelong boy who made good in London”

Medical Eponyms
Adie Syndrome (1931)

Holmes-Adie syndrome (aka Adie syndrome) affects the autonomic nervous system. Patients present with the pupil of one eye being larger and only slowly constricts in bright light (tonic pupil). There is also absence of deep tendon reflexes, usually the Achilles tendon.

Major Publications



Eponymous terms

  • Holmes GM. Partial iridoplegia associated with symptoms of other diseases of the nervous system. Trans ophthal Soc 1931;51:209–28.
  • Brody IA, Wilkins RH. Neurology classics VII – Adie’s Syndrome. Arch Neurol. 1968;18(6):710-715.
  • Beighton G, Wiedemann HR. The Person Behind the Syndrome. Springer. 1997 pp 4-6


the person behind the name

Dr Ege Eroglu Profile picture LITFL 2

MD (The University of Notre Dame, Australia). Doctor at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Perth, Western Australia. Interested in critical care medicine, paediatrics, ENT and ophthalmology.

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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