Cortical reorganization after stroke: how much and how functional?

Neuroscientist. 2014 Feb;20(1):56-70. doi: 10.1177/1073858413491147. Epub 2013 Jun 17.


The brain has an intrinsic capacity to compensate for structural damage through reorganizing of surviving networks. These processes are fundamental for recovery of function after many forms of brain injury, including stroke. Functional neuroimaging techniques have allowed the investigation of these processes in vivo. Here, we review key advances over the past two decades that have shed light on the neural mechanisms enabling recovery of motor function after stroke. We first provide an overview on invasive stroke models in non-human primates that provided insights into lesion-induced changes in the cortical representations of the upper limb. We then present key findings from neuroimaging studies in human stroke patients, which suggest that the role of contralesional motor hemisphere in supporting recovered function depends on factors such as time since stroke, lesion location and anatomical region. More recently, research has been directed at understanding how surviving brain regions influence one another during movement. It appears that it is not only the corticospinal tract but also brainstem pathways and interhemispheric connections that affect cortical reorganization patterns and functional recovery. In summary, neuroimaging opens the way for greater understanding of the mechanisms of recovery and potentially improves our ability to deliver effective restorative therapy.

Keywords: connectivity; fMRI; functional neuroimaging; motor system; transcaranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Motor Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology*
  • Recovery of Function*
  • Stroke / physiopathology*
  • Stroke / therapy