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Keywords:

  • conversion disorder;
  • action selection;
  • motor initiation;
  • supplementary motor area;
  • psychogenic movement disorder

Abstract

Conversion disorder (CD) is characterized by unexplained neurological symptoms presumed related to psychological issues. The main hypotheses to explain conversion paralysis, characterized by a lack of movement, include impairments in either motor intention or disruption of motor execution, and further, that hyperactive self-monitoring, limbic processing or top-down regulation from higher order frontal regions may interfere with motor execution. We have recently shown that CD with positive abnormal or excessive motor symptoms was associated with greater amygdala activity to arousing stimuli along with greater functional connectivity between the amygdala and supplementary motor area. Here we studied patients with such symptoms focusing on motor initiation. Subjects performed either an internally or externally generated 2-button action selection task in a functional MRI study. Eleven CD patients without major depression and 11 age- and gender-matched normal volunteers were assessed. During both internally and externally generated movement, conversion disorder patients relative to normal volunteers had lower left supplementary motor area (SMA) (implicated in motor initiation) and higher right amygdala, left anterior insula, and bilateral posterior cingulate activity (implicated in assigning emotional salience). These findings were confirmed in a subgroup analysis of patients with tremor symptoms. During internally versus externally generated action in CD patients, the left SMA had lower functional connectivity with bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortices. We propose a theory in which previously mapped conversion motor representations may in an arousing context hijack the voluntary action selection system, which is both hypoactive and functionally disconnected from prefrontal top-down regulation. © 2011 Movement Disorder Society