Behavioural and neurophysiological correlates of human cataplexy: A video-polygraphic study

Roberto Vetrugno, Roberto D'Angelo, Keivan Kaveh Moghadam, Stefano Vandi, Christian Franceschini, Emmanuel Mignot, Pasquale Montagna, Giuseppe Plazzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: To investigate the behavioural and neurophysiological pattern of cataplexy. Methods: Seven narcolepsy with cataplexy patients underwent daytime videopolygraphy using humorous movies or/and jokes to trigger cataplectic attacks. Results: During segmental cataplectic attacks, EMG showed brief and irregular periods of silencing focally involving facial, neck, axial or limb muscles, sometimes coinciding with bursts of rapid eye movements. All patients enacted intentional movements in response to these segmental postural lapses. During global cataplectic attacks, EMG showed suppression of activity alternated with patterned enhancement, enhanced EMG activity in neck muscles preceding that of other cranial, axial and lower limb muscles. This waxing and waning EMG pattern ended with a complete body collapse and persistent muscle atonia. Breathing irregularities, heart rate (HR) instability and EEG desynchronization were observed during global cataplectic attacks without any appreciable blood pressure changes, but with HR deceleration and silencing of sympathetic skin response while in complete atonia. Patients subjectively perceived the involuntary postural lapses as startling and alarming. Conclusions: Cataplexy in our patients showed many of the features of tonic REM sleep. Significance: Cataplexy can be construed as a "freezing-like" perturbation of the orienting response with transient impairment of posture and movements resulting in a "patchwork-compromise-behaviour".

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)153-162
Number of pages10
JournalClinical Neurophysiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2010


  • Asterixis
  • Cataplexy
  • Emotions
  • Narcolepsy
  • Orienting reflex
  • REM sleep

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Sensory Systems


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