Brain motor system function after chronic, complete spinal cord injury

Brain. 2005 Dec;128(Pt 12):2941-50. doi: 10.1093/brain/awh648. Epub 2005 Oct 24.


Most therapies under development to restore motor function after spinal cord injury (SCI) assume intact brain motor functions. To examine this assumption, 12 patients with chronic, complete SCI and 12 controls underwent functional MRI during attempted, and during imagined, right foot movement, each at two force levels. In patients with SCI, many features of normal motor system function were preserved, however, several departures from normal were apparent: (i) volume of activation was generally much reduced, e.g. 4-8% of normal in primary sensorimotor cortex, in the setting of twice normal variance in signal change; (ii) abnormal activation patterns were present, e.g. increased pallido-thalamocortical loop activity during attempted movement and abnormal processing in primary sensorimotor cortex during imagined movement; and (iii) modulation of function with change in task or in force level did not conform to patterns seen in controls, e.g. in controls, attempted movement activated more than imagined movement did within left primary sensorimotor cortex and right dorsal cerebellum, while imagined movement activated more than attempted movement did in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and right precentral gyrus. These modulations were absent in patients with SCI. Many features of brain motor system function during foot movement persist after chronic complete SCI. However, substantial derangements of brain activation, poor modulation of function with change in task demands and emergence of pathological brain events were present in patients. Because brain function is central to voluntary movement, interventions that aim to improve motor function after chronic SCI likely also need to attend to these abnormalities of brain function.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Foot
  • Humans
  • Imagination
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Movement
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / psychology