Electrophysiological correlates of motor conversion disorder

Mov Disord. 2008 Nov 15;23(15):2171-6. doi: 10.1002/mds.21994.


In patients with a functional (psychogenic) paresis, motor conduction tests are, by definition, normal. We investigated whether these patients exhibit an abnormal motor excitability. Four female patients with a functional paresis of the left upper extremity were studied using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). We investigated motor thresholds, intracortical inhibition and intracortical facilitation at rest. Corticospinal excitability was evaluated by single pulse TMS during rest and during imagination of tonic index finger adductions. Data obtained from the affected first dorsal interosseous muscle were compared with the unaffected hand and with a healthy age-matched control group. Three patients demonstrated a flaccid paresis, one patient had a psychogenic dystonia. Motor thresholds, short interval intracortical inhibition and intracortical facilitation recorded from the affected side were normal. In healthy subjects, movement imagination produced an increase of corticospinal excitability. In the patients, motor imagery with the affected index finger resulted in a decrease of corticospinal excitability compared to rest, being significantly different from the unaffected side and from the control group. We suggest that suppression of corticospinal excitability during movement imagination is an electrophysiological correlate of the patients' inability to move voluntarily and provides some insight into the pathophysiology of this disorder.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Conversion Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Conversion Disorder / therapy*
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Electromyography / methods
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Movement / physiology
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation*
  • Young Adult