Catatonia is a psychomotor syndrome with an inability to execute and terminate movements completely, leading consecutively to akinesia and posturing, which both respond almost immediately to benzodiazepines, i.e. gaba-potentiators like lorazepam. However, pathophysiological mechanisms of cortical motor and gaba-ergic dysfunction remain unclear. We therefore investigated movement-related cortical potentials (MRPs) and movement kinematics during a motor task before and after lorazepam. Ten akinetic catatonic patients were compared with 10 psychiatric (similar age, sex, medication, and underlying psychiatric disease but without catatonic syndrome) and 20 healthy controls. MRPs from frontal (F), central (C), and parietal (P) sites were recorded to obtain measures of early and late readiness potential and movement potential. Kinematic measures included parameters for amplitude of movements, peak velocity, average duration of movements, elevation angle, and angle velocity. The motor task consisted in self-initiated extension of the right index finger. All catatonic and psychiatric control patients received intravenous lorazepam (1 mg), whereas healthy controls were subjected to a placebo-controlled (10 received lorazepam, 10 received placebo) double-blind study design. Catatonics showed a significantly delayed onset of late readiness and movement potential in central electrodes (Cz, C3) compared with psychiatric and healthy controls. This delayed onset correlated significantly with catatonic motor symptoms and movement duration. Lorazepam led to significantly stronger delays in onset of late readiness potential in left fronto-parietal (F3, C3, P3) electrodes in catatonic patients than in psychiatric and healthy controls. It is concluded that delayed latencies in late MRP components in catatonic patients may reflect their inability to execute and terminate movements completely. Differential and stronger response to lorazepam in catatonia suggests dysfunction in inhibitory control of cortical motor function with increased gaba-ergic sensitivity. (C) 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.
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