INTRODUCTION: Advances have been made in understanding the aetiology of functional neurological disorder (FND); however, its pathophysiological mechanisms have not been definitively demonstrated. Evidence suggests interacting roles for altered emotional processing and interoception, elevated autonomic arousal, and dissociation, but there is limited evidence demonstrating their causal influence on specific FND symptoms. Our superordinate aim is to elucidate potentially shared and distinct aetiological factors and mechanisms in two common FND subtypes, functional seizures (FS) and functional motor symptoms (FMS).

METHODS: This study has a multimodal, mixed between- and within-groups design. The target sample is 50 individuals with FS, 50 with FMS, 50 clinical controls (anxiety/depression), and 50 healthy controls. Potential aetiological factors (e.g., adverse life events, physical/mental health symptoms, dissociative tendencies, interoceptive insight/sensibility) will be assessed with a detailed medical history interview and self-report questionnaires. A laboratory session will include a neurocognitive battery, psychophysiological testing, cardiac interoception and time estimation tasks and an isometric handgrip task. A subsample will undergo magnetic resonance imaging, including structural, resting-state and task-based scans combined with psychophysiological recording. Remote monitoring with ecological momentary assessment and wearables will measure variability in FND symptoms and their potential predictors/correlates for ≥2 weeks in patients' daily lives. Longitudinal follow-ups at 3, 6, and 12-months will monitor longer-term outcomes in the clinical groups.

DISCUSSION: This study employs multimodal research methods to rigorously examine several putative mechanisms in FND, at subjective/experiential, behavioural, and physiological levels. The study will test causal hypotheses about the role of altered emotional processing, autonomic arousal, dissociation and interoception in the initiation or exacerbation of FND symptoms, directly comparing these processes in FS and FMS to healthy and clinical controls. This is the first study of its kind, with potential to reveal important targets for prevention and treatment of FND in future.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0305015
Pages (from-to)e0305015
JournalPLOS One
Issue number6 June
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2024


  • functional neurological disorder
  • functional seizures
  • dissociative seizures
  • functional motor symptoms
  • pathophysiology
  • mechanisms
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • psychogenic
  • Interoception
  • autonomic
  • limbic
  • remote monitoring
  • wearable
  • cognitive
  • emotion


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