Corticolimbic structural alterations linked to health status and trait anxiety in functional neurological disorder

J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2017 Dec;88(12):1052-1059. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2017-316359. Epub 2017 Aug 26.


Objective: Affective symptoms influence health status (health-related quality of life) in functional neurological disorder (FND), and the salience network is implicated in the pathophysiology of FND and mood/anxiety disorders. We hypothesised that self-reported health status and affective symptoms would map onto salience network regions and that patients with FND would show decreased insular volumes compared with controls.

Methods: This voxel-based morphometry study investigated volumetric differences in 26 patients with FND (21 women, 5 men; mean age=40.3±11.5) compared with 27 healthy controls (22 women, 5 men; mean age=40.5±10.8). Post hoc analyses stratified patients with FND by mental and physical health scores (Short Form Health Survey-36). Within-group analyses investigated associations with mental health, physical health, trait anxiety and depression in patients with FND.

Results: There were no volumetric differences between the complete FND cohort and controls. In stratified analyses, however, patients with FND reporting the most severe physical health impairments showed reduced left anterior insular volume compared with controls. In within-group analyses, impaired mental health and elevated trait anxiety were associated with increased right amygdalar volumes in patients with FND. The relationship between amygdalar volume and mental health, driven by emotional well-being deficits and role limitations due to emotional problems, was independent of sensorimotor functional neurological symptom severity and motor FND subtype. In secondary within-group analyses, increased periaqueductal grey volume was associated with role limitations due to emotional problems. Impaired physical functioning correlated with decreased left anterior insular volumes.

Conclusions: These findings support roles for several regions of the salience network in the pathophysiology of FND.

Keywords: conversion disorder; functional movement disorders; insula; psychogenic nonepileptic seizures; voxel-based morphometry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Affect
  • Anxiety / psychology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / pathology
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nervous System Diseases / pathology*
  • Nervous System Diseases / psychology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Young Adult