Negative myoclonus. An overview of its clinical features, pathophysiological mechanisms, and management

Neurophysiol Clin. 2006 Sep-Dec;36(5-6):337-43. doi: 10.1016/j.neucli.2006.12.001. Epub 2007 Jan 23.


Negative myoclonus (NM) is an unspecific motor disorder that can characterize a variety of neurological conditions. From the clinical point of view, NM appears as a shock-like involuntary jerky movement caused by a sudden, brief interruption of muscle activity. Asterixis is a type of NM that occurs typically in toxic-metabolic encephalopathies. NM of epileptic nature, or epileptic negative myoclonus (ENM), is defined as an interruption of tonic muscle activity, which is time-locked to an epileptic EEG abnormality, without evidence of an antecedent positive myoclonia in the agonist-antagonist muscles. ENM can be observed in idiopathic, cryptogenic, and symptomatic epileptic disorders. Pathophysiological hypotheses on the origin of NM involve subcortical as well as cortical mechanisms. Recent neuroimaging and neurophysiologic investigations, including intracerebral recordings and electrical stimulation procedures in epileptic patients, suggest the participation of premotor, primary motor, primary sensory, and supplementary motor areas in the genesis of NM. Polygraphic monitoring is essential for the diagnosis of NM, allowing the demonstration of brief interruptions of a tonic EMG activity, not preceded by a positive myoclonus in the agonist and antagonist muscles of the affected limb. Simultaneous EEG-EMG monitoring demonstrating the association of NM with an epileptic potential is consistent with the diagnosis of ENM. Evolution and prognosis of NM is mainly related to aetiology. In childhood idiopathic partial epilepsy, ENM can respond to some drugs (in particular, ethosuximide), whereas other medications (such as carbamazepine or phenytoin) have been reported to induce or worsen it.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anticonvulsants / therapeutic use
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology
  • Child
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Disease Management
  • Electroencephalography
  • Electromyography
  • Epilepsies, Myoclonic / drug therapy
  • Epilepsies, Myoclonic / etiology
  • Epilepsies, Myoclonic / physiopathology*
  • Ethosuximide / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Myoclonus / classification
  • Myoclonus / diagnosis
  • Myoclonus / drug therapy
  • Myoclonus / etiology
  • Myoclonus / physiopathology*


  • Anticonvulsants
  • Ethosuximide