The pathophysiology of functional movement disorders

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2021 Jan:120:387-400. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2020.10.019. Epub 2020 Nov 4.


Functional neurological disorder is characterized by neurological symptoms that cannot be explained by typical neurological diseases or other medical conditions. This review will critically discuss the literature on the pathophysiology of functional movement disorders (FMD), including functional neuroimaging studies, neurophysiological studies, studies on biomarkers and genetic studies. According to PRISMA guidelines for systematic reviews, we selected 39 studies. A complex scenario emerged, with the involvement of different areas of the brain in the pathophysiology of FMD. Our findings showed a hypoactivation of the contralateral primary motor cortex, a decreased activity in the parietal lobe, an aberrant activation of the amygdala, an increased temporo-parietal junction activity and a hyperactivation of insular regions in patients with FMD. Functional connectivity (FC) findings underlined aberrant connections between amygdala and motor areas, temporo-parietal junction and insula. We proposed amygdala hyperactivation as a possible biological marker for FMD and FC alterations between amygdala and other areas of the brain as consequent epiphenomena, accounting for the pathophysiological complexity of FMD. These conclusions might drive novel treatment hypotheses.

Keywords: Amygdala; Biomarker; Conversion disorder; Functional movement disorder; Functional neuroimaging; Functional neurological disorder.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Movement Disorders*