Limited Capacity for Ipsilateral Secondary Motor Areas to Support Hand Function Post-Stroke
Recent findings have shown connections of ipsilateral cortico-reticulospinal tract (CRST), predominantly originating from secondary motor areas, to not only proximal but also distal portions of the arm. In unilateral stroke, CRST from the ipsilateral side is intact and thus has been proposed as a possible backup system for post-stroke rehabilitation even for the hand. We argue that although CRST from ipsilateral secondary motor areas can provide control for proximal joints, it is insufficient to control either hand or coordinated shoulder and hand movements due to its extensive branching compared to contralateral corticospinal tract. To address this issue, we combined MRI, high-density EEG, and robotics in 17 individuals with severe chronic hemiparetic stroke and 12 age-matched controls. We tested for changes in structural morphometry of the sensorimotor cortex and found that individuals with stroke demonstrated higher gray matter density in secondary motor areas ipsilateral to the paretic arm compared to controls. We then measured cortical activity while participants attempted to generate hand opening either supported on a table or while lifting against a shoulder abduction load. The addition of shoulder abduction during hand opening increased reliance on ipsilateral secondary motor areas in stroke, but not controls. Crucially, increased use of ipsilateral secondary motor areas was associated with decreased hand opening ability while lifting the arm due to involuntary coupling between the shoulder and wrist/finger flexors. Together, this evidence implicates a compensatory role for ipsilateral (i.e., contralesional) secondary motor areas post-stroke, but with limited capacity to support hand function.
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