Changes in cerebral and autonomic activity heralding periodic limb movements in sleep

Franco Ferrillo, Manolo Beelke, Paola Canovaro, Tsuyoshi Watanabe, Debora Aricò, Pierpaolo Rizzo, Sergio Garbarino, Lino Nobili, Fabrizio De Carli
Sleep Medicine 2004, 5 (4): 407-12

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD) is frequently accompanied by awakenings or signs of EEG arousal. However, it is matter of debate whether EEG arousals trigger leg movements or both EEG arousal and leg movements are separate expressions of a common pathophysiological mechanism. Previous studies showed that cardiac and cerebral changes occur in association with periodic limb movements (PLMs), and that a combining increase in delta activity and in heart rate (HR) occurs before the onset of PLMs.

PATIENTS AND METHODS: This paper presents some preliminary data, obtained from a sample of 5 subjects with PLMD not associated to restless legs syndrome. To describe the temporal pattern of cardiac and EEG activities changes concomitant with PLMs in NREM sleep we used time frequency analysis technique.

RESULTS: PLM onset is heralded by a significant activation of HR and delta activity power, beginning 4.25 and 3 s respectively before PLMs onset, with PLMs onset and arousal onset falling together.

DISCUSSION: Delta and HR variations herald PLMs and activation of fast EEG frequencies. Such a stereotyped pattern is common in PLMs and in spontaneous or stimuli-induced arousals. Moreover a similar pattern seems to encompass the CAP phenomenon. The whole of these phenomena can be linked to the activity of a common brainstem system, which receives peripheral inputs, regulating the vascular, cardiac and respiratory activities and synchronizing them to cortical oscillations of EEG.

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