Objectives: The objective of this study was to assess the sensitivity of motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) elicited by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in demonstrating the possible subclinical impairment of the corticospinal pathway after recovery, in patients with a clinical history of pure motor stroke (PMS) due to a single lacunar infarct detectable by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Methods: MEPs were recorded from the first dorsal interosseous muscle of 20 healthy subjects and 40 patients, 6 months or more after PMS onset. Patients were evaluated clinically by means of the NIH stroke scale, the Medical Research Council (MRC) scale and the Barthel Index. The patients with full hand strength recovery and the normal controls were also tested by means of the 9-hole peg test.
Results: Motor threshold (MT), MEP amplitude and central motor conduction time (CMCT) of the affected side were significantly different from those of the normal side and of the control subjects. MT, MEP amplitude and CMCT obtained after stimulation of the affected hemisphere were significantly correlated with the MRC scale values of the affected hand. Eighty-six percent of patients with persistent hand strength deficit showed MEP abnormalities. In 21 patients with complete clinical recovery, a significant increase in MT and decrease in MEP amplitude on the affected side were observed.
Conclusions: After PMS, neurophysiological changes may persist despite complete clinical recovery. TMS represents a sensitive tool that enables to demonstrate objectively the clinical and subclinical impairment of the corticospinal pathway.