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Sleep Med. 2008 May;9(4):425-33. Epub 2007 Aug 2.

Clinical, behavioural and polysomnographic correlates of cataplexy in patients with narcolepsy/cataplexy.

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Department of Psychology, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy.



Cataplexy is the main motor symptom of narcolepsy/cataplexy and is considered a form of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep motor dyscontrol appearing during wakefulness and elicited by emotions. This study examined the relationship between the frequency of cataplectic attacks in patients with narcolepsy/cataplexy and (a) the clinical and behavioural characteristics of cataplectic attacks, including the emotional tone of trigger events, and (b) the polysomnographic characteristics of daytime sleepiness, nocturnal sleep structure and indices of motor disorders during sleep.


A consecutive series of 44 first-diagnosed drug-naive patients with narcolepsy/cataplexy, fulfilling the International Classification of Sleep Disorders, 2nd edition (ICSD-2) clinical and polysomnographic diagnostic criteria, were interviewed to estimate the frequency and clinical characteristics of cataplectic attacks and the occurrence of REM sleep behaviour disorder (RBD). All patients also underwent a video-polysomnographic recording to assess their sleep parameters and indices of altered motor control during sleep.


Patients were divided into two groups on the basis of the frequency of cataplectic attacks, namely high-frequency (n=30) or low-frequency (n=14) depending on whether they estimated they had more or less than one attack per month. High-frequency patients (with a larger proportion of men) reported attacks more often affecting mainly the head, jaw and shoulder muscles and experienced more events among those listed as possible triggers of attacks. Sixty-one percent of patients reported RBD and 43% had an RBD episode at video-polysomnography regardless of the frequency of cataplectic attacks or gender. Lastly, the frequency of periodic leg movements (PLM) per hour was higher in men than women and increased with age.


Patients with more than one cataplectic attack per month had more frequent involvement of head, jaw and shoulder muscles and were mainly men. The proportions of patients with clinically assessed RBD and an RBD episode documented by video-polysomnography, as well as conspicuous values of PLM per hour, are fairly consistent with those reported in recent small-group studies. Therefore, it seems legitimate to argue that RBD and PLM are nocturnal manifestations intrinsic to narcolepsy/cataplexy and that the gender-related differences in the frequency of attacks and the value of PLM per hour may be indicative of a larger difference in the clinical and polysomnographic characteristics of narcolepsy/cataplexy than hitherto suspected.

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