The name of the Institut du Fer à Moulin (IFM) is derived from the rue du Fer à Moulin, along the length of which the institute is situated. The IFM received its name officially in 2007 during its creation as a mixed Inserm-Paris 6 University (Université Pierre et Marie Curie, UPMC) Research Center, also known as Unit 839 (U839) or UMR-S 839 (« unité de recherche mixte en santé 839 », unit of mixed research related to health 839). Since January 2017, the UPMC merged with the Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Paris 4 University), to become Sorbonne University. The name Institut du Fer à Moulin was already used occasionally before 2007 to describe the Inserm laboratories situated in the same building at 17 rue du Fer à Moulin.
The current Inserm building was built at the beginning of the 1970s (Figure 1) on land belonging to the Public Assistance Hospitals of Paris (Assistance Publique des Hôpitaux de Paris, AP-HP). On this land situated at the location of the Clamart cemetery, there exists an anatomy amphitheater dating to the beginning of the 19th century which became the AP-HP School of Surgery in 1970. The origin of the name of the rue du Fer-à-Moulin goes back to at least the 16th century and corresponds to a piece of metal (‘fer’) which allows a rotating axe to fit into a grinding wheel of a mill (‘moulin’). It is also a heraldic symbol (e.g. coat of arms). The site of ‘Fer à Moulin’ is also the headquarters of the General Agency of Health Products and Equipment (Agence Générale des Équipements et Produits de Santé, AGEPS) and of the AP-HP Surgery School, of which the history is resumed below.
Research at Fer à Moulin: the Inserm building and the Fer à Moulin institute1
1.Source : http://histoire.inserm.fr/les-lieux/institut-du-fer-a-moulin, completed and updated in 2014 and 2018
The Inserm building dates back to the beginning of the 1970s. Following an agreement between the AP-HP, owner of the site, and Inserm, it was decided that a mixed AP/inserm building should be built with a view to grouping both entities: the first, research for the benefit of Inserm, with the insertion of several laboratories; the second, for the needs of the AP-HP, including its library and residency committee.
Biology, experimental medicine, arterial hypertension and cardiovascular pathology
The first research unit Inserm installed on the Fer-à-Moulin site, was the U36 ‘Animal biology and experimental techniques’ directed by Edouard Housset until 1979. Two other units were installed in the Inserm building: firstly the U47 ‘Cell biology and culture of tissues’ directed by Henri Febvre until 1977, then the U98 ‘Chemical pharmacology’ directed by Richard Rips from 1971 until 1985.
In 1980 Pierre Corvol succeeded Edouard Housset in directing the U36, and its name became ‘Vascular pathology and renal endocrinology’. In 1990, this unit moved to the Collège de France where Pierre Corvol was elected Professor and holder of the chair of experimental medicine, and then administrator. Pierre Corvol is internationally recognized for his group’s work on the hormonal system ‘renin-angiotensin-aldosterone’ which regulates the metabolism of water and salt, and controls arterial pressure. With the departure of Pierre Corvol from the Fer-à-Moulin site, two laboratories carried on research in the cardiovascular domain under the direction of François Alhenc-Gelas and François Cambien. François Alhenc-Gelas directed the U367 ‘Physiology and experimental vascular pathology’ from 1993 to 2004. He studied vasomotor peptide systems and their cellular effects, as well as the physiopathology of the kidney, related to diabetes and hypertension. He then joined in 2005 the biomedical institute of the Cordeliers, Paris, in order to direct the U562 ‘Physiology and vascular and renal pharmacology’. The group of François Cambien explored the ‘Genetic epidemiology of cardiovascular diseases’. He moved to the Pitié-Salpêtrière site in 1999 where he took on the direction of the U525 ‘Genetic epidemiology and molecular aspects of cardiovascular pathologies’.
From muscle to the nervous system
In 1975, the mixed Inserm / CNRS unit 153 ‘Biology and neuromuscular pathology, physiopathology of myopathies’ was created and directed by Michel Fardeau, of which the title became ‘Development, pathology, regeneration of the neuromuscular system’. In 1996, Ketty Schwartz succeeded him and the unit moved to the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital where an Institute of Myology was soon to be created. The medical activity and the research of Michel Fardeau were focused on muscular biology and pathology. He showed the importance of cytochemistry techniques and electron microscopy in the study and diagnosis of acquired and hereditary muscular diseases. The introduction of molecular biology techniques allowed him to envisage gene therapy by the transfer of genes in the 1990’s, notably for the Duchenne myopathy.
In 1984, André Sobel joined the U153 where he directed a group ‘Cellular regulation and differentiation’. In 1996 he took up the direction of the U440 ‘Cellular signaling and differentiation in the nervous and muscular systems’. His work were focused on the relay and integration of intracellular signals, which led him to discover the stathmin family of proteins, which regulate microtubules. The unit also contained the groups of René-Marc Mège and Marc Vigny, becoming U706 ‘Molecular and cellular neurosignaling’ from 2005 to 2006.
In 2000, Jean-Antoine Girault, coming from the U114 directed by Jacques Glowinski at the Collège de France took on the direction of a new unit, U536 ‘Signal transduction and plasticity of the nervous system’ from 2000 to 2006. This unit also contained the groups of Denis Hervé and Laurence Goutebroze and the Avenir junior group of Theirry Galli who later moved to the Institut Jacques Monod in 2006. During the renovation and building work permitting the installation of the U536 at the Fer-à-Moulin site, Jean-Antoine Girault and André Sobel and their collaborators, who had the same interest for intracellular signaling, decided to share a floor of technical equipment and to organize shared lab meetings and weekly seminars, this organization becoming the precursor of a new thematic institute.
The Fer à Moulin institute
The objective to regroup research activities in the Inserm building around a common theme was reached in 2007 with the availability and renovation of lab-space liberated by the departure of the U367. The groups from the site’s research units (Sobel and Girault), as well as those of the U616 « Normal and pathological development of the brain » directed by Patricia Gaspar and situated at the Pitié-Salpêtrière hospital with Luc Maroteaux and Christine Métin, as well as the Avenir group of Jean-Christophe Poncer, proposed the creation of an Inserm and Pierre and Marie Curie University ‘Research Center’, at the time of the first call for projects for such structures in 2006. This proposal led in 2007 to the creation of the Fer à Moulin institute, UMR-S 839, directed by Jean-Antoine Girault, regrouping all research activities of the building. The Fer à Moulin institute is dedicated to the study of the development and the plasticity of the nervous system. Initially it was made up of the groups of Jean-Antoine Girault, Patricia Gaspar, Luc Maroteaux, André Sobel, René-Marc Mège, Jean-Christophe Poncer and the translational research group of Marc Vigny and Jacques Hugon. The IFM was then joined successively by the ATIP/Avenir groups of Fiona Francis, Matthias Groszer and Manuel Mameli. In 2014, the Fer à Moulin institute was re-created for 5 years with Jean-Antoine Girault as director and Fiona Francis as vice-director. In 2016, Manuel Mameli left for the University of Lausanne and the IFM was joined by the ATIP/Avenir group of Stéphane Nédélec who is interested in stem cells and their influence in the development and plasticity of the nervous system. In 2018, Gabrielle Girardeau started a new ATIP/Avenir group studying the physiological bases of the links between emotions and memories.
The Fer-à-Moulin site
From the Clamart cemetery to the school of surgery
In 1672, the Hôtel-Dieu of Paris and the Trinité hospital bought a piece of land in the suburb of Saint-Marcel, containing 3 houses with gardens and outbuildings, which were demolished in order to open the Clamart cemetery, since the Trinité cemetery situated in Saint Denis had been shut down. The name Clamart was chosen because of the proximity of the Clamart mansion which was situated on the southern part of the rue du Fer-à-Moulin. The cemetery was found at the location of the ancient Clamart gardens, owned by the lords of Clamart, who had raised a cross with the name of their fief on the square, today named Poliveau»2. In the middle of the 17th century this ground became the cemetery ‘of Clamart’, which received the bodies of people who had died at the Hôtel Dieu, then from other hospitals, and also criminals sentenced to death. At the end of the 18th century the remains of the people guillotined during the Revolution were added there. The buildings of the faculty of medicine were overloaded, hence special amphitheatres where students performed dissections were developed in the same place. These amphitheatres were destroyed after the decree of the 3rd December 1834 and replaced by the Anatomy amphitheater erected from December 1832, at the time of the general council of the Hospices. It was affiliated in 1849 with the AP-HP. It seems that attendance at the Anatomy amphitheater was very popular, since in 1939, almost 600 students carried out anatomical work there. Anatomical parts could also be found exposed in a museum. In 1970, the Anatomy amphitheater became the AP-HP Surgery School.
From the Scipion mansion and the General Apothecary of the Civil Hospices of Paris to the AGEPS
The Fer-à-Moulin site is also the seat of the AGEPS. Its history goes back to 1795, the date the General Apothecary of the Civil Hospices of Paris was created, of which the roles were the production, the storage and the distribution of drugs to hospitals in the Parisian region. In 1796, the Apothecary took on the name of the Central Pharmacy of the Hospitals which became in 1996 the PCH-AGAM for ‘Pharmacie Centrale des Hôpitaux – Agence Générale des Approvisionnements Médicaux’ (Central Pharmacy of the Hospitals – General Agency of Medical Supplies). In 2001, the PCH-AGAM became a medical structure and took on the name of AGEPS for Agence Générale des Équipements et Produits de Santé’ (General Agency of Equipment and Health Products). Not far from there was situated the Scipion mansion, built in the XVIth century, transformed into a hospice in 1612, then given to the Hôpital-Général3 in 1656, in order to create a house dedicated to birth and infant feeding under the name of the Sainte-Marthe hospital4. Situated close to the Seine, useful for receiving supplies, after the French Revolution, it became the bakery for the Parisian hospitals. Félix and Louis Lazare5 wrote: ‘At this time, merchandise destined for the General Hospital, arriving ordinarily by water, was unloaded at a port situated close to the station. To transport it to the Scipion house, which served as a warehouse at this hospital, we were obliged to go by the Saint Victor barrier and up several winding streets of the Faubourg Saint-Marcel’. The Scipion house kept this function until 1974.
3. Secular establishment without a medical vocation but place of confinement of poor people. Wanted by devout lay people (the Company of the Saint-Sacrement) under the reign of Louis XIII, it had the aim of resolving the problem of begging and dissolving certain city areas where beggars accumulated in so-called ‘Courts of Miracles’. In Paris, it was created in the establishments of the Salpêtrière, the Pitié and Bicêtre hospitals, and was destined to house, according to the terms of the Royal Edict of 1656, poor people ‘of all sexes, places and ages, whatever standing and birth, and in whatever state they are, well, invalid, ill or convalescent, curable or incurable.’
4. Jean Lebeuf and Hippolyte Cocheris, History of the city and of all the diocese of Paris [archive], editions A. Durand, 1864, vol. 2, pp. 27-29. Cited in the Wikipedia article on the hotel Scipion.
5. ‘Administrative and historical dictionary of Parisian roads and monuments’ from Felix and Louis Lazare (p. 349-350, 2nd edition, 1855).
The Fer à Moulin road
Where does the name of the ‘rue du Fer à Moulin’ come from? We find it mentioned on maps of Paris since the 16th century. A map from Truschet and Hoyau in 1550 mentioned the rue du Fer de Moulin in its current position (Fig. 2). The Clamart cemetery having been created in the middle of the 17th century, present on Gomboust’s (1652) and Nicolas de Fer’s (1676) maps, the part of the rue du Fer à Moulin which runs along the cemetery became called rue de la Muette. We find also from the same period maps with the name of rue du Fer à Cheval (Boisseau, 1648, Janssonius, 1657)… This suggests uncertainties from this period. Also later on, the « Administrative and historical dictionary of Parisian roads and monuments» from Félix and Louis Lazare (op. cit.), gave an opinion which is in contradiction with the maps cited higher up and those of Roussel (1730) and of Delagrive (1737 and 1740). This is the text: « This road, which was part of the Saint-Marcel borough, was constructed in the 12th century. It would be named for a while after the rue au Comte-de-Boulogne, because of the Boulogne lords who owned a mansion in this area. According to Sauval, it also took on the name of ‘rue de Richebourg’, with which it communicated on the la Bièvre, named since the bridge of Tripes. In 1713, this road, divided in two parts, had two denominations: the first part, from between the rue du Jardin-du-Roi (today rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire) and that of the Pont-aux-Biches6, was named rue des Morts because it ran along the cemetery of Clamart; the second part called rue Permoulin ; we believe that this name was given by an owner. In 1870, the name of rue des Morts was changed to that of rue Muette or de la Muette, and the denomination of Permoulin was replaced by that of Fer-à-Moulin.”
6. Now rue de la Clef.
Figure 2: Extract of a map of Paris under the reign of Henri II, by Olivier Truschet and Germain Hoyau in 1553. We see the rue du Fer de Moulin parallel to the river (de Bièvre or des Gobelins, without a name on this map). The only known copy is found at the University library of Basel.
What is a “fer à moulin” ?
In a mill the cereal grains are ground between two round mill stones, the lower and upper grindstones, of which the upper stone rotates. The motor force, which was generated by wind or water, is transmitted to the turning grindstone by an axis, generally made of wood. A ‘fer à moulin’ or «’fer de moulin’, also called a millrind, is a metal object placed in the central hole (œillard in French) of the turning millstone (Fig. 3). This “fer à moulin” is inlaid and sealed. Its primary function is to transmit the rotation of the axis to the turning millstone. It was easy to remove the axis or to provide space between the millrind and the millstone in order to pour in the grain. This invention is very ancient because it was reported in times of the Gauls, by Vitruve, a roman architect (1st century B.C) who accompanied the legions in Gaul and Spain, in his treaty on architecture “De architectura libri decem” : ” … that a wheel drives an iron pin in the form of an axe in order to turn the overlying millstone…”7.
The millrind or ‘fer de moulin’ is also used in coats of arms. In heraldry, it was the emblem attributed only to highest noblemen who had full judiciary power (high justice). It only belonged to those who had communal mills and who obliged all the vassals to mill there, with defense against the neighboring millers to come and infringe on their privileges. According to the chronicler from Liège, Jacques de Hemricourt « the ‘fers de moulin’ were once the best and most assured signs to indicate the prominent status of those who owned the communal mills ».
Why is the ‘rue du Fer-à-moulin’ hence called this? It’s difficult to know the origin of the name of the road in the 16th century or before… Some proposed that a tavern was found there of which the sign was a millrind or ‘fer à moulin’
7. ‘Histoire d’anilles’ by Alain Mazeau http://www.guyenne.fr/Association/Anille/Anille.htm
Figure 3: A fer de moulin or fer à moulin or millrind. A turning millstone with its millrind. A coat of arms with 3 millrinds suggesting that its owner had three communal mills. Sources : http://moulindelamousquere.pagesperso-orange.fr/pages/tournant.htm et https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meule_%C3%A0_grains