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J Neurol. 2009 Aug;256(8):1263-9. doi: 10.1007/s00415-009-5112-8. Epub 2009 Apr 8.

Decreased brain activation to tongue movements in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis with bulbar involvement but not Kennedy syndrome.

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Department of Neuropsychology, Otto-von-Guericke-Universität, Magdeburg, Germany.


Neuroimaging studies in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) investigating movements of the hands have in general found increased activation compared to healthy controls, which has been interpreted in terms of cortical adaptation as a result of corticospinal tract damage. Here, we investigated brain activations to vertical tongue movements using functional MRI at 3 tesla. Whereas healthy controls, patients with Kennedy syndrome, and ALS patients without bulbar involvement showed robust and indistinguishable activations in pre- and postcentral areas and the thalamus, ALS patients with bulbar involvement showed a significant decrease of cortical activity and missing thalamic activity. This decrease stands in marked contrast to the increase of activity observed in ALS patients when performing limb movements. We discuss these divergent findings with regard to the different physiological properties of tongue and limb movements. These findings may also help to explain the faster time-course of the disease in patients with bulbar involvement.

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