Corticolimbic fast-tracking: enhanced multimodal integration in functional neurological disorder

J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2019 Aug;90(8):929-938. doi: 10.1136/jnnp-2018-319657. Epub 2019 Mar 8.


Objective: Some individuals with functional neurological disorder (FND) exhibit motor and affective disturbances, along with limbic hyper-reactivity and enhanced motor-limbic connectivity. Given that the multimodal integration network (insula, dorsal cingulate, temporoparietal junction (TPJ)) is implicated in convergent sensorimotor, affective and interoceptive processing, we hypothesised that patients with FND would exhibit altered motor and amygdalar resting-state propagation to this network. Patient-reported symptom severity and clinical outcome were also hypothesised to map onto multimodal integration areas.

Methods: Between-group differences in primary motor and amygdalar nuclei (laterobasal, centromedial) were examined using graph-theory stepwise functional connectivity (SFC) in 30 patients with motor FND compared with 30 healthy controls. Within-group analyses correlated functional propagation profiles with symptom severity and prospectively collected 6-month outcomes as measured by the Screening for Somatoform Symptoms Conversion Disorder subscale and Patient Health Questionnaire-15 composite score. Findings were clusterwise corrected for multiple comparisons.

Results: Compared with controls, patients with FND exhibited increased SFC from motor regions to the bilateral posterior insula, TPJ, middle cingulate cortex and putamen. From the right laterobasal amygdala, the FND cohort showed enhanced connectivity to the left anterior insula, periaqueductal grey and hypothalamus among other areas. In within-group analyses, symptom severity correlated with enhanced SFC from the left anterior insula to the right anterior insula and TPJ; increased SFC from the left centromedial amygdala to the right anterior insula correlated with clinical improvement. Within-group associations held controlling for depression, anxiety and antidepressant use.

Conclusions: These neuroimaging findings suggest potential candidate neurocircuit pathways in the pathophysiology of FND.

Keywords: conversion disorder; fMRI; functional movement disorders; psychogenic nonepileptic seizures; somatisation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amygdala / physiopathology*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Conversion Disorder / diagnostic imaging
  • Conversion Disorder / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Membrane Potentials / physiology
  • Motor Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Neuroimaging
  • Putamen / physiopathology
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Surveys and Questionnaires