Functional neuroanatomical correlates of hysterical sensorimotor loss

Institute of Pathology, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Vaud, Switzerland
Brain (Impact Factor: 10.23). 07/2001; 124(Pt 6):1077-90. DOI: 10.1093/brain/124.6.1077
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Hysterical conversion disorders refer to functional neurological deficits such as paralysis, anaesthesia or blindness not caused by organic damage but associated with emotional "psychogenic" disturbances. Symptoms are not intentionally feigned by the patients whose handicap often outweighs possible short-term gains. Neural concomitants of their altered experience of sensation and volition are still not known. We assessed brain functional activation in seven patients with unilateral hysterical sensorimotor loss during passive vibratory stimulation of both hands, when their deficit was present and 2-4 months later when they had recovered. Single photon emission computerized tomography using (99m)Tc-ECD revealed a consistent decrease of regional cerebral blood flow in the thalamus and basal ganglia contralateral to the deficit. Independent parametric mapping and principal component statistical analyses converged to show that such subcortical asymmetries were present in each subject. Importantly, contralateral basal ganglia and thalamic hypoactivation resolved after recovery. Furthermore, lower activation in contralateral caudate during hysterical conversion symptoms predicted poor recovery at follow-up. These results suggest that hysterical conversion deficits may entail a functional disorder in striatothalamocortical circuits controlling sensorimotor function and voluntary motor behaviour. Basal ganglia, especially the caudate nucleus, might be particularly well situated to modulate motor processes based on emotional and situational cues from the limbic system. Remarkably, the same subcortical premotor circuits are also involved in unilateral motor neglect after organic neurological damage, where voluntary limb use may fail despite a lack of true paralysis and intact primary sensorimotor pathways. These findings provide novel constraints for a modern psychobiological theory of hysteria.

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    ABSTRACT: Functional neurological disorder (conversion disorder) is a neurobehavioral condition frequently encountered by neurologists. Psychogenic nonepileptic seizure (PNES) and functional movement disorder (FMD) patients are presented to epileptologists and movement disorder specialists respectively, yet neurologists lack a neurobiological perspective through which to understand these enigmatic groups. Observational research studies suggest that PNES and FMD may represent variants of similar (or the same) conditions given that both groups exhibit a female predominance, have increased prevalence of mood-anxiety disorders, frequently endorse prior abuse, and share phenotypic characteristics. In this perspective article, neuroimaging studies in PNES and FMD are reviewed, and discussed using studies of emotional dysregulation, dissociation and psychological trauma in the context of motor control. Convergent neuroimaging findings implicate alterations in brain circuits mediating emotional expression, regulation and awareness (anterior cingulate and ventromedial prefrontal cortices, insula, amygdala, vermis), cognitive control and motor inhibition (dorsal anterior cingulate, dorsolateral prefrontal, inferior frontal cortices), self-referential processing and perceptual awareness (posterior parietal cortex, temporoparietal junction), and motor planning and coordination (supplementary motor area, cerebellum). Striatal-thalamic components of prefrontal-parietal networks may also play a role in pathophysiology. Aberrant medial prefrontal and amygdalar neuroplastic changes mediated by chronic stress may facilitate the development of functional neurological symptoms in a subset of patients. Improved biological understanding of PNES and FMD will likely reduce stigma and aid the identification of neuroimaging biomarkers guiding treatment development, selection, and prognosis. Additional research should investigate neurocircuit abnormalities within and across functional neurological disorder subtypes, as well as compare PNES and FMD with mood-anxiety-dissociative disorders. © EEG and Clinical Neuroscience Society (ECNS) 2014.
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    ABSTRACT: We present a case of a middle-aged male patient with a long history of conversion disorder and histrionic personality, who presented with newly onset psychotic symptoms while being engaged to treatment with a community mental health team in a primary care setting. The symptoms could not be attributed to an organic cause. After a short course of olanzapine treatment which caused adverse effects, the symptomatology responded well to low dose amisulpride. Conversion symptoms were stable throughout the psychotic episode. This case illustrates the complex interplay between disorders classified in different categories (somatoform versus psychotic disorders).
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