OBJECTIVES To evaluate whether the task-specific neural coupling mechanism during the performance of cooperative hand movements is preserved in tetraplegic subjects.
METHODS Recordings of ipsilateral and contralateral electromyographic reflex responses in activated forearm muscles and bilateral somatosensory potentials (SSEP) to unilateral ulnar nerve stimulations during rest, cooperative and non-cooperative hand movements.
RESULTS Contralateral reflex responses were present in almost all patients during cooperative hand movements but small in amplitude when hand function was severely impaired. Ipsilateral SSEP potentials were enhanced during both cooperative and, in contrast to healthy subjects, also non-cooperative bimanual movements.
CONCLUSIONS Both results indicate a strong involvement of ipsilateral non-damaged cervical tracts and hemispheres in the control of bimanual hand movements in tetraplegic subjects.
SIGNIFICANCE This study on the neural control of bimanual movements in patients suffering a cervical injury allows designing therapeutic approaches for the improvement of hand function that are based on physiological insights.