. Motor impairments post-stroke, such as the upper limb flexion synergy and abnormal stretch reflexes, greatly affect an individual?s ability to implement activities of daily living. Despite the development of various clinical interventions for motor recovery after stroke, rehabilitation treatments, especially in more impaired individuals, are only minimally effective. This is due to: 1) many remaining gaps in our understanding of specific mechanisms underlying motor impairments post stroke that inform clinical practice, and 2) lack of sensitive biomarkers to determine the neuroplasticity resulting from interruptions of neural pathways caused by the stroke and during recovery. Our long-term goal is to develop a sensitive way to quantitatively assess the lesion-induced utilization of remaining motor pathways post stroke, which would allow better examination of stroke recovery and evaluation of rehabilitation interventions. Our previous studies indicate that motor impairments post hemiparetic stroke are likely caused by an increased reliance on contralesional indirect motor pathways via the brainstem, following stroke-induced losses of ipsilesional corticospinal projections. Thus, the objective of this proposal is to quantitatively determine the usage of indirect motor pathways and its link to the expression of the flexion synergy and abnormal stretch reflexes, by examining changes in neural connectivity of motor pathways as a function of shoulder abduction (SABD) load. In contrast to the direct corticospinal tract, these indirect pathways contain more synapses, which thus may cause an enhanced nonlinear neural connectivity via the motor pathways due to the nonlinear sigmoid shape of synaptic behavior and its cumulative effect across synapses. Thus, our central hypotheses are that: 1) an increased usage of indirect motor pathways while lifting the paretic arm, requiring SABD and causing the flexion synergy, will lead to enhanced nonlinear connectivity between brain and muscle activity; 2) the recruitment of indirect motor pathways will also affect the stretch reflex, in particular, its transcortical reflex component, resulting in increased nonlinear connectivity between stretch perturbations and muscle activity. Finally, these indirect pathways may prolong the neural transmission delay in the transcortical reflex loop, resulting in an increased time lag between perturbations and muscle activity. Using our recently developed nonlinear connectivity method and mechanically well-controlled experimental paradigms, we aim to test these hypotheses by: 1) comparing linear vs. nonlinear connectivity between brain and muscle activity during the generation of different levels of SABD torque in individuals post hemiparetic stroke; 2) quantifying changes of nonlinear connectivity and time delay of the stretch reflex post-stroke as a function of SABD torque level. As such, this project will provide new sensitive biomarkers that determine the recruitment of indirect motor pathways resulting in functional disability of upper extremity post hemiparetic stroke. This will also lead to a better understanding of neural mechanisms underlying stroke-induced motor impairments that inform clinical practice to combat the flexion synergy and associated hyperactive stretch reflexes following a unilateral brain injury.

Public Health Relevance

This proposal seeks to quantitatively determine the maladaptive reliance on the contralesional indirect motor descending pathways and its link to flexion synergy related motor impairments in the chronic hemiparetic stroke, using an innovative approach. As such, this research will provide new knowledge and associated measures that are essential for development of more effective rehabilitation interventions to combat the flexion synergy and associated hyperactive stretch reflexes or spasticity following recovery from a unilateral brain injury.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Motor Function, Speech and Rehabilitation Study Section (MFSR)
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Nitkin, Ralph M
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Northwestern University at Chicago
Physical Medicine & Rehab
Schools of Medicine
United States
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