The locked-in syndrome: a syndrome looking for a therapy

Brain Inj. 2002 Jul;16(7):571-82. doi: 10.1080/02699050110119781.


The locked-in syndrome (LIS) is a very severe condition caused by a primary vascular or traumatic injury to the brainstem, normally corresponding to a ventral pons lesion due to an obstruction of the basilar artery, and characterized by upper motor neuron quadriplegia, paralysis of lower cranial nerves, bilateral paresis of horizontal gaze and anarthria, and with preserved consciousness. Patients who have suffered this pontine lesion generally have preserved vertical eye movements and movement of the eyelids (blinking), this being their only means of responding to the outside world. A survey was conducted of 44 people diagnosed with LIS, all of them belonging to the Association of Locked-in Syndrome (ALIS) of France. Results of this survey showed that LIS was equally frequent in men and women (51.2% vs. 48.1%) and had occurred at any age between 22-77 years of age (normally between 41-52 years, the mean age being 46.79 years). The average time that transpired post-insult was 71.35 months. The principal cause of LIS was stroke (86.4%), with traumatic brain injury (TBI) being a distant second cause with an incidence of only 13.6%. The diagnosis of LIS was usually made around the middle of the second month after onset (mean of 78.76 days). The principal treatments, when present, were pharmacological and physiotherapy. However, 47.1% of the patients were not receiving treatment of any kind at the time of the survey. Neuropsychologically, 86% had a good attentional level, 97.6% were temporally oriented and 76.7% could read; 18.6% reported memory problems and 24% showed visual deficit (found mainly in patients with LIS originated by TBI); 47.5% reported a good mood state and 12.5% reported feeling depressed; 61.1% reported having sexual desire, but only 30% maintained sexual relations; 78% were capable of emitting sounds and 65.8% could communicate without technical aid; 73.2% enjoyed going out and 81% met with friends at least twice a month. Only 14.3% participated in social activities and 23.8% watched television regularly. Nearly 100% of the patients reported being sensitive to touch to any part of their bodies. This survey suggests diagnostics and rehabilitation procedures.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mood Disorders / diagnosis
  • Mood Disorders / etiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Quadriplegia / complications
  • Quadriplegia / diagnosis
  • Quadriplegia / therapy*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sexual Dysfunction, Physiological / etiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires