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Adv Exp Med Biol. 2009;629:559-75. doi: 10.1007/978-0-387-77064-2_30.

Selective activation of human finger muscles after stroke or amputation.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, University of Rochester, 601 Elmwood Ave, Box 673, Rochester, NY 14642, USA.


Individuated finger movements of the human hand require selective activation of particular sets of muscles. Such selective activation is controlled primarily by the motor cortex via the corticospinal tract. Is this selectivity therefore lost when lesions damage the corticospinal tract? Or when the motor cortex reorganizes after amputation? We studied finger movements in normal human subjects and in patients who had recovered substantially from pure motor hemiparesis caused by lacunar strokes, which damage the corticospinal tract without affecting other pathways. Even after substantial recovery from these strokes, individuation of finger movements remained reduced-both for flexion/extension and for adduction/ abduction motion of the fingers. Stroke subjects regained the ability to move the instructed digit through a normal range, but unintentional motion of other digits was increased. This increase did not result from a change in the passive biomechanical coupling of the fingers. Rather, voluntary contractions of muscles that move the intended digit were accompanied by inappropriate contractions in muscles acting on additional digits. These observations suggest that the normal corticospinal system produces individuated finger movements not only by selectively activating certain muscles, but also by suppressing activation of other muscles during voluntary effort to move a given digit. In a separate experiment, reversible amputation of the hand was produced in normal subjects by ischemic nerve block at the wrist. Motor output to the intrinsic muscles and sensory input both become blocked under these conditions, effectively amputating the hand from the nervous system. But the long extrinsic muscles that flex and extend the digits remain normally innervated, and thus flexion forces still can be generated at the fingertips. During reversible amputation of the hand produced by ischemic nerve block, the ability of subjects to activate subdivisions of extrinsic muscles and to exert flexion force at individual fingertips continued to show essentially normal selectivity. Voluntary activation of the remaining muscles thus continues to be selective after amputation, in spite of both the loss of sensory input from the amputated hand, and reorganization within the primary motor cortex. During cortical reorganization after amputation, then, voluntary patterns of motor output intended for finger muscles may not be lost. We therefore examined activity in the stump muscles of above-elbow amputees, who have no remaining hand muscles. Different movements of the phantom hand were accompanied by different patterns of EMG in remaining proximal muscles, distinct from the EMG patterns associated with movement of the phantom elbow. We infer that voluntary motor output patterns that normally control finger movements after amputation may become diverted to remaining proximal muscles.

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