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Previous work has demonstrated potentially adaptive cortical plasticity that increases with brain injury in patients with multiple sclerosis. However, animal studies showing use-dependent changes in motor cortex organization suggest that functional changes also may occur in response to disability. We therefore wished to test whether brain injury and disability lead to distinguishable patterns of activation with hand movement in patients with multiple sclerosis. By employing a passive as well as an active movement task, we also wished to test whether these changes were independent of voluntary recruitment and thus mor likely to reflect true functional reorganization. Fourteen patients [Extended Disability Status Score (EDSS) 0-7.5] with relapsing- remitting multiple sclerosis were selected on the basis of pathology load and hand functional impairment for three study groups: group 1, low diffuse central brain injury (DCBI) as assessed from relative N-acetylaspartate concentration (a marker of axonal integrity) and normal hand function (n = 6); group 2, greater DCBI and normal hand function (n = 4); and group 3, greater DCBI and impaired hand function (n = 4). Functional MRI (fMRI) was used to map brain activation with a four-finger and both one-finger passive and active flexion-extension movement tasks for the three groups. Considering all the patients, we found increased activity in ipsilateral premotor and ipsilateral motor cortex (IMC) and in the ipsilateral inferior parietal lobule with increasing global disability (as assessed from the EDSS score). These changes appear to define true functional reorganization, as fMRI activations in IMC (r = 0.87, P < 0.001) and in the contralateral motor cortex (r = 0.67, P < 0.007) were highly correlated between active and passive single finger movements. We attempted to disambiguate any distinct effects of disability and brain injury by direct contrasts between patients differing predominantly in one or the other. To make these contrasts as powerful as possible, we used impairment of finger tapping as a measure of disability specific to the hand tested. A direct contrast of patients matched for DCBI, but differing in hand disability (group 3 - group 2) showed greater bilateral primary and secondary somatosensory cortex activation with greater disability alone. A contrast matched for hand disability, but differing in DCBI (group 2 - group 1) showed a different pattern of changes with relative ipsilateral premotor cortex and bilateral supplementary motor area activity. We conclude that the pattern of brain activity with finger movements changes both with increasing DCBI and with hand disability in patients with multiple sclerosis, and that these changes are distinct. Those related directly to disability may reflect responses to altered patterns of use. As injury- and disability-related activation changes are found even with passive finger movements, they may reflect true brain reorganization.


Journal article



Publication Date





2646 - 2657