Changing motor synergies in chronic stroke

J Neurophysiol. 2007 Aug;98(2):757-68. doi: 10.1152/jn.01295.2006. Epub 2007 Jun 6.


Synergies are thought to be the building blocks of vertebrate movements. The inability to execute synergies in properly timed and graded fashion precludes adequate functional motor performance. In humans with stroke, abnormal synergies are a sign of persistent neurological deficit and result in loss of independent joint control, which disrupts the kinematics of voluntary movements. This study aimed at characterizing training-related changes in synergies apparent from movement kinematics and, specifically, at assessing: 1) the extent to which they characterize recovery and 2) whether they follow a pattern of augmentation of existing abnormal synergies or, conversely, are characterized by a process of extinction of the abnormal synergies. We used a robotic therapy device to train and analyze paretic arm movements of 117 persons with chronic stroke. In a task for which they received no training, subjects were better able to draw circles by discharge. Comparison with performance at admission on kinematic robot-derived metrics showed that subjects were able to execute shoulder and elbow joint movements with significantly greater independence or, using the clinical description, with more isolated control. We argue that the changes we observed in the proposed metrics reflect changes in synergies. We show that they capture a significant portion of the recovery process, as measured by the clinical Fugl-Meyer scale. A process of "tuning" or augmentation of existing abnormal synergies, not extinction of the abnormal synergies, appears to underlie recovery.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Arm / physiology
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Chronic Disease
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Recovery of Function / physiology
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Robotics
  • Stroke / physiopathology*
  • Stroke Rehabilitation*