Brain Plasticity and Upper Limb Function After Stroke: Some Implications for Rehabilitation

University dissertation from Uppsala : Rehabiliteringsmedicin

Abstract: Neuroimaging and neurophysiology techniques were used to study some aspects of cortical sensory and motor system reorganisation in patients in the chronic phase after stroke. Using Diffusion Tensor Imaging, we found that the degree of white matter integrity of the corticofugal tracts (CFT) was positively related to grip strength. Structural changes of the CFT were also associated with functional changes in the corticospinal pathways, measured using Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. This suggests that structural and functional integrity of the CFT is essential for upper limb function after stroke.Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), to measure brain activity during slow and fast passive hand movements, we found that velocity-dependent brain activity correlated positively with neural contribution to passive movement resistance in the hand in ipsilateral primary sensory (S1) and motor (M1) cortex in both patients and controls. This suggests a cortical involvement in the hyperactive reflex response of flexor muscles upon fast passive stretch.Effects of a four week passive-active movement training programme were evaluated in chronic stroke patients. The group improved in range of motion and upper limb function after the training. The patients also reported improvements in a variety of daily tasks requiring the use of the affected upper limb. Finally, we used fMRI to explore if brain activity during passive hand movement is related to time after stroke, and if such activity can be affected with intense training. In patients, reduced activity over time was found in supplementary motor area (SMA), contralateral M1 and prefrontal and parietal association areas along with ipsilateral cerebellum. After training, brain activity increased in SMA, ipsilateral S1 and intraparietal sulcus, and contralateral cerebellum in parallel with functional improvements of the upper limb. The findings suggest a use-dependent modification of cortical activation patterns in the affected hand after stroke.