Article

Functional neuroanatomical correlates of hysterical sensorimotor loss.

Department of Neurology, University Hospital of Geneva, Switzerland.
Brain (Impact Factor: 10.23). 07/2001; 124(Pt 6):1077-90.
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: Background Previous functional neuroimaging studies investigating the neuroanatomy of conversion disorder have yielded inconsistent results that may be attributed to small sample sizes and disparate methodologies. The objective of this study was to better define the functional neuroanatomical correlates of conversion disorder. Methods Ten subjects meeting clinical criteria for unilateral sensory conversion disorder underwent fMRI during which a vibrotactile stimulus was applied to anesthetic and sensate areas. A block design was used with 4 s of stimulation followed by 26 s of rest, the pattern repeated 10 times. Event-related group averages of the BOLD response were compared between conditions. Results All subjects were right-handed females, with a mean age of 41. Group analyses revealed 10 areas that had significantly greater activation (p < .05) when stimulation was applied to the anesthetic body part compared to the contralateral sensate mirror region. They included right paralimbic cortices (anterior cingulate cortex and insula), right temporoparietal junction (angular gyrus and inferior parietal lobule), bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (middle frontal gyri), right orbital frontal cortex (superior frontal gyrus), right caudate, right ventral-anterior thalamus and left angular gyrus. There was a trend for activation of the somatosensory cortex contralateral to the anesthetic region to be decreased relative to the sensate side. Conclusions Sensory conversion symptoms are associated with a pattern of abnormal cerebral activation comprising neural networks implicated in emotional processing and sensory integration. Further study of the roles and potential interplay of these networks may provide a basis for an underlying psychobiological mechanism of conversion disorder.
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