The pathophysiology of post-stroke fatigue is poorly understood although it is thought to be a consequence of central nervous system pathophysiology. In this study we investigate the relationship between corticomotor excitability and self-reported non-exercise related fatigue in chronic stroke population. Seventy first-time non-depressed stroke survivors (60.36 ± 12.4 years, 20 females, 56.81 ± 63 months post-stroke) with minimal motor and cognitive impairment were included in the cross-sectional observational study. Fatigue was measured using two validated questionnaires: Fatigue Severity Scale 7 and Neurological Fatigue Index - Stroke. Perception of effort was measured using a 0-10 numerical rating scale in an isometric biceps hold-task and was used as a secondary measure of fatigue. Neurophysiological measures of corticomotor excitability were performed using transcranial magnetic stimulation. Corticospinal excitability was quantified using resting and active motor thresholds and stimulus-response curves of the first dorsal interosseous muscle. Intracortical M1 excitability was measured using paired pulse paradigms: short and long interval intracortical inhibition in the same hand muscle as above. Excitability of cortical and subcortical inputs that drive M1 output was measured in the biceps muscle using a modified twitch interpolation technique to provide an index of central activation failure. Stepwise regression was performed to determine the explanatory variables that significantly accounted for variance in the fatigue and perception scores. Resting motor threshold (R = 0.384; 95% confidence interval = 0.071; P = 0.036) accounted for 14.7% (R(2)) of the variation in Fatigue Severity Scale 7. Central activation failure (R = 0.416; 95% confidence interval = -1.618; P = 0.003) accounted for 17.3% (R(2)) of the variation in perceived effort score. Thus chronic stroke survivors with high fatigue exhibit high motor thresholds and those who perceive high effort have low excitability of inputs that drive motor cortex output. We suggest that low excitability of both corticospinal output and its facilitatory synaptic inputs from cortical and sub-cortical sites contribute to high levels of fatigue after stroke.
Keywords: behavioural neurology; motor cortex; motor evoked potentials; stroke rehabilitation; transcranial magnetic stimulation.
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