Pathological laughing and crying in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis: an association with prefrontal cognitive dysfunction

J Neurol Sci. 1999 Oct 31;169(1-2):43-8. doi: 10.1016/s0022-510x(99)00214-2.


Pathological laughing and crying (PLC) frequently occurs in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The etiology of the syndrome is unclear, but frontal-subcortical circuits are implicated, given their known association with mood and affect regulation. Ten ALS patients with PLC, eight patients without, and ten healthy controls were compared on a number of psychometric measures. Three indices of prefrontal cortical function were given: the Wisconsin Card Sort Test (WCST), the novel 'Gambling task' and a measure of olfactory discrimination. Global cognitive ability, psychiatric symptoms, and illness variables were also examined. No significant between-groups differences emerged with respect to global cognitive ability, mood, olfaction, and performance on the Gambling task. On the WCST, however, patients with PLC made significantly more total errors than the other two groups, and showed a strong trend in a similar direction for perseverative errors. A discriminant function analysis revealed that the WCST variable 'total errors' correctly predicted the presence or absence of pathological affect in 75% of cases. Thus, PLC appears to be associated with impairment in the functional integrity of the prefrontal cortex. Although this was not found for all prefrontal measures, further investigation of this area appears warranted.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis*
  • Crying / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Laughter / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychometrics / statistics & numerical data*