The effect of stress induction on working memory in patients with psychogenic nonepileptic seizures

Epilepsy Behav. 2010 Nov;19(3):448-54. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2010.08.026. Epub 2010 Oct 12.


Although psychogenic nonepileptic seizures (PNES) are considered a stress-induced paroxysmal disintegration of cognitive functions, it remains unknown whether stress indeed impairs cognitive integrative functions, such as working memory (WM), in patients with PNES. An N-back task with emotional distracters (angry, happy, and neutral faces) was administered at baseline and after stress induction (Cold Pressor Test) to 19 patients with PNES and 20 matched healthy controls. At baseline, patients displayed increased WM interference for the facial distracters. After stress induction, group differences generalized to the no-distracter condition. Within patients, high cortisol stress responses were associated with larger stress-induced WM impairments in the no-distracter condition. These findings demonstrate that patients' cognitive integrative functions are impaired by social distracters and stress induction. Moreover, the stress- and cortisol-related generalization of the relative WM impairments offers a promising experimental model for the characteristic paroxysmal disintegration of attentional and mnemonic functions in patients with PNES associated with stress.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Blood Pressure / physiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Emotions / physiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / etiology*
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pain Measurement
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Seizures / complications*
  • Seizures / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiopathology


  • Hydrocortisone