Background: Mirror therapy (MT) was found to improve motor function after stroke, but its neural mechanisms remain unclear, especially in single stroke patients.
Objectives: The following imaging study was designed to compare brain activation patterns evoked by the mirror illusion in single stroke patients with normal subjects.
Methods: Fifteen normal volunteers and five stroke patients with severe arm paresis were recruited. Cerebral activations during movement mirroring by means of a video chain were recorded with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Single-subject analysis was performed using SPM 8.
Results: For normal subjects, ten and thirteen subjects displayed lateralized cerebral activations evoked by the mirror illusion while moving their right and left hand respectively. The magnitude of this effect in the precuneus contralateral to the seen hand was not dependent on movement speed or subjective experience. Negative correlation of activation strength with age was found for the right hand only. The activation pattern in stroke patients is comparable to that of normal subjects and present in four out of five patients.
Conclusions: In summary, the mirror illusion can elicit cerebral activation contralateral to the perceived hand in the majority of single normal subjects, but not in all of them. This is similar even in stroke patients with severe hemiparesis.
Keywords: Movement; imaging; mirror illusion; mirror therapy; stroke.