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Keywords:

  • ischemic stroke;
  • post-stroke recovery;
  • plasticity;
  • volumetric MRI;
  • motor cortex

Abstract

This study aimed to quantify dynamic structural changes in the brain after subcortical stroke and identify brain areas that contribute to motor recovery of affected limbs. High-resolution structural MRI and neurological examinations were conducted at five consecutive time points during the year following stroke in 10 patients with left hemisphere subcortical infarctions involving motor pathways. Gray matter volume (GMV) was calculated using an optimized voxel-based morphometry technique, and dynamic changes in GMV were evaluated using a mixed-effects model. After stroke, GMV was decreased bilaterally in brain areas that directly or indirectly connected with lesions, which suggests the presence of regional damage in these “healthy” brain tissues in stroke patients. Moreover, the GMVs of these brain areas were not correlated with the Motricity Index (MI) scores when controlling for time intervals after stroke, which indicates that these structural changes may reflect an independent process (such as axonal degeneration) but cannot affect the improvement of motor function. In contrast, the GMV was increased in several brain areas associated with motor and cognitive functions after stroke. When controlling for time intervals after stroke, only the GMVs in the cognitive-related brain areas (hippocampus and precuneus) were positively correlated with MI scores, which suggests that the structural reorganization in cognitive-related brain areas may facilitate the recovery of motor function. However, considering the small sample size of this study, further studies are needed to clarify the exact relationships between structural changes and recovery of motor function in stroke patients. Hum Brain Mapp, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.