Type I Chiari malformation (CMI) is a neurological condition in which the cerebellar tonsils descend into the cervical spinal subarachnoid space resulting in cervico-medullary compression. Early case-control investigations have indicated cognitive deficits in the areas of attention, memory, processing speed, and visuospatial function. The present study further examined cognitive and emotional processing deficits associated with CMI using a dual-task paradigm. Nineteen CMI patients recruited during pre-surgical consultation and 19 matched control participants identified emotional expressions in separate single and asynchronous dual-task designs. To extend earlier behavioral studies of cognitive effects in CMI, we recorded event-related potentials (ERPs) in the dual-task design. Though response times were slower for CMI patients across the two tasks, behavioral and ERP analyses indicated that patients did not differ from matched controls in the ability to allocate attentional resources between the two tasks. P1 ERP component analyses provided no indication of an emotional arousal deficit in our CMI sample while P3 ERP component analyses suggested a CMI-related deficit in emotional regulation. P3 analysis also yielded evidence for a frontalization of neurophysiological activity in CMI patients. Pain and related depression and anxiety factors accounted for CMI deficits in single task, but not dual-task, response times. Results are consistent with a dysfunctional fronto-parietal attentional network resulting from either the indirect effects of chronic pain or the direct effects of CMI pathophysiology stemming from cervico-medullary compression.
James R. Houston, Michelle L. Hughes, Mei-Ching Lien, Bryn A. Martin, Francis Loth, Mark G. Luciano, Sarel Vorster, Philip A. Allen