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Brain Imaging in Catatonia: Current Findings and a Pathophysiologic Model

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 November 2014


Karl Ludwig Kahlbaum originally described catatonia as a psychomotor disease that encompassed motor, affective, and behavioral symptoms. In the beginning of the 20th century, catatonia was considered to be the motoric manifestation of schizophrenia; therefore, neuropathologic research mostly focused on neuroanatomic substrates (ie, the basal ganglia underlying the generation of movements). Even though some alterations were found in basal ganglia, the findings in these subcortical structures are not consistent. Recently, there has been a reemergence of interest into researching catatonia. Brain imaging studies have shown major and specific alterations in a right hemispheric neural network that includes the medial and lateral orbitofrontal and posterior parietal cortex. This neural network may be abnormally modulated by altered functional interactions between γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-ergic and glutamatergic transmission. This may account for the interrelationship among motor, emotional, and behavioral alterations observed in both clinical phenomenology and the subjective experiences of patients with catatonia. Such functional interrelationships should be explored in further detail in catatonia, which may also serve as a paradigmatic model for the investigation of psychomotor and brain function in general.

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