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Stroke. 2008 May;39(5):1520-5. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.107.502229. Epub 2008 Mar 6.

Remodeling the brain: plastic structural brain changes produced by different motor therapies after stroke.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL 35294, USA.



Studies on adult stroke patients have demonstrated functional changes in cortical excitability, metabolic rate, or blood flow after motor therapy, measures that can fluctuate rapidly over time. This study evaluated whether evidence could also be found for structural brain changes during an efficacious rehabilitation program.


Chronic stroke patients were randomly assigned to receive either constraint-induced movement therapy (n=16) or a comparison therapy (n=20). Longitudinal voxel-based morphometry was performed on structural MRI scans obtained immediately before and after patients received therapy.


The group receiving constraint-induced movement therapy exhibited far greater improvement in use of the more affected arm in the life situation than the comparison therapy group. Structural brain changes paralleled these improvements in spontaneous use of the more impaired arm for activities of daily living. There were profuse increases in gray matter in sensory and motor areas both contralateral and ipsilateral to the affected arm that were bilaterally symmetrical, as well as bilaterally in the hippocampus. In contrast, the comparison therapy group failed to show gray matter increases. Importantly, the magnitude of the observed gray matter increases was significantly correlated with amount of improvement in real-world arm use.


These findings suggest that a previously overlooked type of brain plasticity, structural remodeling of the human brain, is harnessed by constraint-induced movement therapy for a condition once thought to be refractory to treatment: motor deficit in chronic stroke patients.

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