Bilateral and unilateral arm training improve motor function through differing neuroplastic mechanisms: a single-blinded randomized controlled trial

Neurorehabil Neural Repair. 2011 Feb;25(2):118-29. doi: 10.1177/1545968310380685. Epub 2010 Oct 7.


Background and purpose: This randomized controlled trial tests the efficacy of bilateral arm training with rhythmic auditory cueing (BATRAC) versus dose-matched therapeutic exercises (DMTEs) on upper-extremity (UE) function in stroke survivors and uses functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine effects on cortical reorganization.

Methods: A total of 111 adults with chronic UE paresis were randomized to 6 weeks (3×/week) of BATRAC or DMTE. Primary end points of UE assessments of Fugl-Meyer UE Test (FM) and modified Wolf Motor Function Test Time (WT) were performed 6 weeks prior to and at baseline, after training, and 4 months later. Pretraining and posttraining, fMRI for UE movement was evaluated in 17 BATRAC and 21 DMTE participants.

Results: The improvements in UE function (BATRAC: FM Δ = 1.1 + 0.5, P = .03; WT Δ = -2.6 + 0.8, P < .00; DMTE: FM Δ = 1.9 + 0.4, P < .00; WT Δ = -1.6 + 0.7; P = .04) were comparable between groups and retained after 4 months. Satisfaction was higher after BATRAC than DMTE (P = .003). BATRAC led to significantly higher increase in activation in ipsilesional precentral, anterior cingulate and postcentral gyri, and supplementary motor area and contralesional superior frontal gyrus (P < .05). Activation change in the latter was correlated with improvement in the WMFT (P = .01).

Conclusions: BATRAC is not superior to DMTE, but both rehabilitation programs durably improve motor function for individuals with chronic UE hemiparesis and with varied deficit severity. Adaptations in brain activation are greater after BATRAC than DMTE, suggesting that given similar benefits to motor function, these therapies operate through different mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled 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

  • Aged
  • Arm / innervation
  • Arm / physiopathology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Exercise Therapy / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Paresis / rehabilitation*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities
  • Recovery of Function / physiology
  • Single-Blind Method
  • Stroke / complications
  • Stroke Rehabilitation*