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J Neurophysiol. 2012 Aug 1;108(3):891-905. doi: 10.1152/jn.01152.2011. Epub 2012 May 9.

Neural control of rhythmic arm cycling after stroke.

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Rehabilitation Neuroscience Laboratory, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.


Disordered reflex activity and alterations in the neural control of walking have been observed after stroke. In addition to impairments in leg movement that affect locomotor ability after stroke, significant impairments are also seen in the arms. Altered neural control in the upper limb can often lead to altered tone and spasticity resulting in impaired coordination and flexion contractures. We sought to address the extent to which the neural control of movement is disordered after stroke by examining the modulation pattern of cutaneous reflexes in arm muscles during arm cycling. Twenty-five stroke participants who were at least 6 mo postinfarction and clinically stable, performed rhythmic arm cycling while cutaneous reflexes were evoked with trains (5 × 1.0-ms pulses at 300 Hz) of constant-current electrical stimulation to the superficial radial (SR) nerve at the wrist. Both the more (MA) and less affected (LA) arms were stimulated in separate trials. Bilateral electromyography (EMG) activity was recorded from muscles acting at the shoulder, elbow, and wrist. Analysis was conducted on averaged reflexes in 12 equidistant phases of the movement cycle. Phase-modulated cutaneous reflexes were present, but altered, in both MA and LA arms after stroke. Notably, the pattern was "blunted" in the MA arm in stroke compared with control participants. Differences between stroke and control were progressively more evident moving from shoulder to wrist. The results suggest that a reduced pattern of cutaneous reflex modulation persists during rhythmic arm movement after stroke. The overall implication of this result is that the putative spinal contributions to rhythmic human arm movement remain accessible after stroke, which has translational implications for rehabilitation.

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