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Keywords:

  • intracortical inhibition;
  • mirror movements;
  • motor control;
  • motor cortex;
  • rehabilitation;
  • transcranial magnetic stimulation

Abstract

The neurophysiological hallmark of congenital mirror movements (MM) are fast-conducting corticospinal projections from the hand area of one primary motor cortex to both sides of the spinal cord. It is still unclear whether the abnormal ipsilateral projection originates through branching fibres from the normal contralateral projection or constitutes a separate ipsilateral projection. To clarify this question, we used focal paired-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation to test task-related modulation of short-interval intracortical inhibition (SICI) in the abductor pollicis brevis (APB) muscles of a 15-year-old girl (Patient 1) and a 40-year-old woman (Patient 2) with congenital MM. In both patients, during intended unilateral APB contraction, SICI decreased markedly in the “task” APB but remained unchanged in the “mirror” APB when compared to muscle rest. In contrast, spinal excitability as tested with H reflexes increased similarly in the task and mirror flexor carpi radialis muscles. This dissociation of task-related SICI modulation strongly supports the existence of a separate ipsilateral fast-conducting corticospinal projection. In Patient 1, we tested the functional significance of this separate ipsilateral projection during 7 months of motor rehabilitation training, which was designed to facilitate unilateral finger movements. A marked reduction of MM was observed after training, suggesting that unwanted mirror activity in the ipsilateral pathway can be suppressed by learning. © 2003 Movement Disorder Society