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Adaptive motor cortex plasticity following grip reconstruction in individuals with tetraplegia

Journal article
Authors Lina Bunketorp Käll
R. J. Cooper
Johanna Wangdell
Jan Fridén
Malin Björnsdotter
Published in Restorative Neurology and Neuroscience
Volume 36
Issue 1
Pages 73-82
ISSN 0922-6028
Publication year 2018
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology
Institute of Clinical Sciences, Department of Orthopaedics
Pages 73-82
Language en
Keywords SCI, tendon transfer, plasticity, cortical reorganization, fMRI, spinal-cord-injury, longus tendon transfer, cortical reorganization, sensorimotor cortex, upper extremity, recovery, surgery, people, fmri, rehabilitation, Neurosciences & Neurology
Subject categories Neurosciences


Background: Tendon transfer is a surgical technique for restoring upper limb motor control in patients with cervical spinal cord injuries (SCI), and offers a rare window into cortical neuroplasticity following regained arm and hand function. Objective: Here, we aimed to examine neuroplasticity mechanisms related to re-established voluntary motor control of thumb flexion following tendon transfer. Methods: We used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to test the hypothesis that restored limb control following tendon transfer is mediated by activation of that limb's area of the primary motor cortex. We examined six individuals with tetraplegia who underwent right-sided surgical grip reconstruction at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Sweden. All were right-handed males, with a SCI at the C6 or C7 level, and a mean age of 40 years (range = 31-48). The average number of years elapsed since the SCI was 13 (range = 6-26). Six right-handed gender-and age-matched control subjects were included (mean age 39 years, range = 29-46). Restoration of active thumb flexion in patients was achieved by surgical transfer of one of the functioning elbow flexors (brachioradialis), to the paralyzed thumb flexor (flexor pollicis longus). We studied fMRI responses to isometric right-sided elbow flexion and key pinch, and examined the cortical representations within the left hemisphere somatomotor cortex a minimum of one year after surgery. Results: Cortical activations elicited by elbow flexion did not differ in topography between patients and control participants. However, in contrast to control participants, patients' cortical thumb flexion activations were not topographically distinct from their elbow flexion activations. Conclusion: This result speaks against a topographic reorganization in which the thumb region regains thumb control following surgical tendon transfer. Instead, our findings suggest a neuroplastic mechanism in which motor cortex resources previously dedicated to elbow flexion adapt to control the thumb.

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