Clinical diagnosis of propriospinal myoclonus is unreliable: an electrophysiologic study

Mov Disord. 2013 Nov;28(13):1868-73. doi: 10.1002/mds.25627. Epub 2013 Sep 18.


Propriospinal myoclonus is a rare movement disorder that is hypothesized to arise from a spinal generator that transmits activity up and down the spinal cord via long propriospinal pathways. Polymyography is mandatory for the diagnosis, but the typical electrophysiological pattern described for propriospinal myoclonus has been also found in patients with psychogenic axial jerks, supported by the presence of a Bereitschaftspotential (BP; from German, "readiness potential," also called the premotor potential). We evaluated polymyographic findings in 65 patients referred to us with a clinical diagnosis of propriospinal myoclonus and also looked for the presence of the BP, as detected by jerk-locked back-averaging. At clinical reassessment by a movement disorder specialist, nearly one-half of the patients had clinical clues suggestive of a psychogenic cause of the jerks. Electrophysiological studies were carried out on all 65 patients. Polymyography findings revealed an incongruent electromyographic pattern for propriospinal myoclonus in 84.6% of patients and the presence of the BP in 86.1% of the entire cohort. When taking into account either the presence of BP and/or incongruence of polymyographic features, all patients, including the approximately 50% clinically diagnosed as organic propriospinal myoclonus by a movement disorder expert, had strong neurophysiological evidence for a psychogenic origin of their jerks. The clinical distinction of propriospinal myoclonus from psychogenic axial jerks is unreliable. This is the largest cohort of patients with axial jerks reported so far and we suggest that most of the patients with a clinical picture that clinically resembles propriospinal myoclonus are likely to be psychogenic.

Keywords: Bereitschaftspotential; axial jerks; functional movement disorders; propriospinal myoclonus; psychogenic movement disorders.

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Contingent Negative Variation / physiology
  • Databases, Factual / statistics & numerical data
  • Electroencephalography
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Myoclonus / diagnosis*
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology*