The brain mechanisms underlying successful recovery of hand function after stroke are still not fully understood, although functional MRI (fMRI) studies underline the importance of neuronal plasticity.Methods:
We explored potential changes in brain activity in 7 patients with subacute to chronic stroke (69 ± 8 years) with moderate- to high-grade distal paresis of the upper limb (Motricity Index: 59.4) after standardized robotic finger-hand rehabilitation training, in addition to conventional rehabilitation therapy for 3 weeks. Behavioral and fMRI assessments were carried out before and after training to characterize changes in brain activity and behavior.Results:
The Motricity Index (pre: 59.4, post: 67.2, P< .05) and grip force (pre: 7.26, post: 11.87, P < .05) of the paretic hand increased significantly after rehabilitation. On fMRI, active movement of the affected (left) hand resulted in contralesional (ie, ipsilateral) activation of the primary sensorimotor cortex prior to rehabilitation. After rehabilitation, activation appeared “normalized,” including the ipsilesional primary sensorimotor cortex and supplementary motor area (SMA). No changes and no abnormalities of activation maps were seen during movement of the unaffected hand. Subsequent region-of-interest analyses showed no significant ipsilesional activation increases after rehabilitation.Conclusion:
Despite behavioral improvements, we failed to identify consistent patterns of functional reorganization in our sample. This warrants caution in the use of fMRI as a tool to explore neural plasticity in heterogeneous samples lacking sufficient statistical power.