The relationships between impairment, function, arm use and underlying brain structure following stroke remain unclear. Although diffusion weighted imaging is useful in broadly assessing white matter structure, it has limited utility in identifying specific underlying neurobiological components, such as myelin. The purpose of the present study was to explore relationships between myelination and impairment, function and activity in individuals with chronic stroke. Assessments of paretic upper-extremity impairment and function were administered, and 72-hour accelerometer based activity monitoring was conducted on 19 individuals with chronic stroke. Participants completed a magnetic resonance imaging protocol that included a high resolution T1 anatomical scan and a multi-component T2 relaxation imaging scan to quantify myelin water fraction (MWF). MWF was automatically parcellated from pre- and post-central subcortical regions of interest and quantified as an asymmetry ratio (contralesional/ipsilesional). Cluster analysis was used to group more and less impaired individuals based on Fugl-Meyer upper extremity scores. A significantly higher precentral MWF asymmetry ratio was found in the more impaired group compared to the less impaired group (p < 0.001). There were no relationships between MWF asymmetry ratio and upper-limb use. Stepwise multiple linear regression identified precentral MWF asymmetry as the only variable to significantly predict impairment and motor function in the upper extremity (UE). These results suggest that asymmetric myelination in a motor specific brain area is a significant predictor of upper-extremity impairment and function in individuals with chronic stroke. As such, myelination may be utilized as a more specific marker of the neurobiological changes that predict long term impairment and recovery from stroke.
Keywords: AC, Activity Count; ANCOVA, Analysis of Covariance; AR, Asymmetry Ratio; Accelerometry; Biomarkers; CST, Corticospinal Tract; DTI, Diffusion Tensor Imaging; FM, Fugl-Meyer; GRASE, Gradient and Spin Echo; MANCOVA, Multivariate Analysis of Covariance; MR, Magnetic Resonance; MWF, Myelin Water Fraction; Motor control; Myelin; Stroke; UE, Upper Extremity; WMFT, Wolf Motor Function Test; White matter.