Objective: For most patients, resolution of upper limb impairment during the first 6 months poststroke is 70% of the maximum possible. We sought to identify candidate mechanisms of this proportional recovery. We hypothesized that proportional resolution of upper limb impairment depends on ipsilesional corticomotor pathway function, is mirrored by proportional recovery of excitability in this pathway, and is unaffected by upper limb therapy dose.
Methods: Upper limb impairment was measured in 93 patients at 2, 6, 12, and 26 weeks after first-ever ischemic stroke. Motor evoked potentials (MEPs) and motor threshold were recorded from extensor carpi radialis using transcranial magnetic stimulation, and fractional anisotropy (FA) in the posterior limbs of the internal capsules was determined with diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging.
Results: Initial impairment score, presence of MEPs and FA asymmetry were the only predictors of impairment resolution, indicating a key role for corticomotor tract function. By 12 weeks, upper limb impairment resolved by 70% in patients with MEPs regardless of their initial impairment, and ipsilesional rest motor threshold also resolved by 70%. Resolution of impairment was insensitive to upper limb therapy dose.
Interpretation: These findings indicate that upper limb impairment resolves by 70% of the maximum possible, regardless of initial impairment, but only for patients with intact corticomotor function. Impairment resolution seems to reflect spontaneous neurobiological processes that involve the ipsilesional corticomotor pathway. A better understanding of these mechanisms could lead to interventions that increase resolution of impairment above 70%.
© 2015 American Neurological Association.