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Open Access Research article

Unravelling developmental disregard in children with unilateral cerebral palsy by measuring event-related potentials during a simple and complex task

Ingar M Zielinski1*, Marijtje LA Jongsma1, C Marjolein Baas1, Pauline BM Aarts2 and Bert Steenbergen13

Author Affiliations

1 Behavioural Science Institute, Radboud University Nijmegen, PO Box 9104, 6500 HE Nijmegen, The Netherlands

2 Department of Pediatric Rehabilitation, Sint Maartenskliniek, Postbus 9011, 6500 GM Nijmegen, The Netherlands

3 School of Psychology, Australian Catholic University, 115 Victoria Pde, Melbourne, VIC 3450, Australia

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BMC Neurology 2014, 14:6  doi:10.1186/1471-2377-14-6

Published: 8 January 2014

Abstract

Background

In a subset of children with unilateral Cerebral Palsy (CP) a discrepancy between capacity and performance of the affected upper limb can be observed. This discrepancy is known as Developmental Disregard (DD). Though the phenomenon of DD has been well documented, its underlying cause is still under debate. DD has originally been explained based on principles of operant conditioning. Alternatively, it has been proposed that DD results from a diminished automaticity of movements, resulting in an increased cognitive load when using the affected hand. To investigate the amount of involved cognitive load we studied Event-Related Potentials (ERPs) preceding task-related motor responses during a single-hand capacity and a dual-hand performance task. It was hypothesised that children with DD show alterations related to long-latency ERP components when selecting a response with the affected upper limb, reflecting increased cognitive load in order to generate an adequate response and especially so within the dual-hand task.

Methods

Fifteen children with unilateral CP participated in the study. One of the participants was excluded due to major visual impairments. Seven of the remaining participants displayed DD. The other seven children served as a control group. All participants performed two versions of a cue-target paradigm, a single-hand capacity and a dual-hand performance task. The ERP components linked to target presentation were inspected: the mid-latency P2 component and the consecutive long-latency N2b component.

Results

In the dual-hand performance task children with DD showed an enhancement in mean amplitude of the long-latency N2b component when selecting a response with their affected hand. No differences were found regarding the amplitude of the mid-latency P2 component. No differences were observed regarding the single-hand capacity task. The control group did not display any differences in ERPs linked to target evaluation processes between both hands.

Conclusion

These electrophysiological findings show that DD is associated with increased cognitive load when movements are prepared with the affected hand during a dual-hand performance task. These findings confirm behavioural observations, advance our insights on the neural substrate of DD and have implications for therapy.

Keywords:
Unilateral cerebral palsy; Developmental disregard; EEG; Event-related potentials; Cognitive load