OBJECTIVE: Recent research indicates a task-specific neural coupling controlling cooperative hand movements reflected in bilateral electromyographic reflex responses in arm muscles following unilateral nerve stimulation. Reorganization of this mechanism was explored in post-stroke patients in this study.
METHODS: Electromyographic reflex responses in forearm muscles to unilateral electrical ulnar nerve stimulation were examined during cooperative and non-cooperative hand movements.
RESULTS: Stimulation of the unaffected arm during cooperative hand movements led to electromyographic responses in bilateral forearm muscles, similar to those seen in healthy subjects, while stimulation of the affected side was followed only by ipsilateral responses. No contralateral reflex responses could be evoked in severely affected patients. The presence of contralateral responses correlated with the clinical motor impairment as assessed by the Fugl-Meyer test.
CONCLUSION: The observations suggest that after stroke an impaired processing of afferent input from the affected side leads to a defective neural coupling and is associated with a greater involvement of fiber tracts from the unaffected hemisphere during cooperative hand movements.
SIGNIFICANCE: The mechanism of neural coupling underlying cooperative hand movements is shown to be defective in post-stroke patients. The neural re-organizations observed have consequences for the rehabilitation of hand function.