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A novel fMRI paradigm suggests that pedaling-related brain activation is altered after stroke. Front Hum Neurosci 2015;9:324



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The purpose of this study was to examine the feasibility of using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure pedaling-related brain activation in individuals with stroke and age-matched controls. We also sought to identify stroke-related changes in brain activation associated with pedaling. Fourteen stroke and 12 control subjects were asked to pedal a custom, MRI-compatible device during fMRI. Subjects also performed lower limb tapping to localize brain regions involved in lower limb movement. All stroke and control subjects were able to pedal while positioned for fMRI. Two control subjects were withdrawn due to claustrophobia, and one control data set was excluded from analysis due to an incidental finding. In the stroke group, one subject was unable to enter the gantry due to excess adiposity, and one stroke data set was excluded from analysis due to excessive head motion. Consequently, 81% of subjects (12/14 stroke, 9/12 control) completed all procedures and provided valid pedaling-related fMRI data. In these subjects, head motion was ≤3 mm. In both groups, brain activation localized to the medial aspect of M1, S1, and Brodmann's area 6 (BA6) and to the cerebellum (vermis, lobules IV, V, VIII). The location of brain activation was consistent with leg areas. Pedaling-related brain activation was apparent on both sides of the brain, with values for laterality index (LI) of -0.06 (0.20) in the stroke cortex, 0.05 (±0.06) in the control cortex, 0.29 (0.33) in the stroke cerebellum, and 0.04 (0.15) in the control cerebellum. In the stroke group, activation in the cerebellum - but not cortex - was significantly lateralized toward the damaged side of the brain (p = 0.01). The volume of pedaling-related brain activation was smaller in stroke as compared to control subjects. Differences reached statistical significance when all active regions were examined together [p = 0.03; 27,694 (9,608) μL stroke; 37,819 (9,169) μL control]. When individual regions were examined separately, reduced brain activation volume reached statistical significance in BA6 [p = 0.04; 4,350 (2,347) μL stroke; 6,938 (3,134) μL control] and cerebellum [p = 0.001; 4,591 (1,757) μL stroke; 8,381 (2,835) μL control]. Regardless of whether activated regions were examined together or separately, there were no significant between-group differences in brain activation intensity [p = 0.17; 1.30 (0.25)% stroke; 1.16 (0.20)% control]. Reduced volume in the stroke group was not observed during lower limb tapping and could not be fully attributed to differences in head motion or movement rate. There was a tendency for pedaling-related brain activation volume to increase with increasing work performed by the paretic limb during pedaling (p = 0.08, r = 0.525). Hence, the results of this study provide two original and important contributions. First, we demonstrated that pedaling can be used with fMRI to examine brain activation associated with lower limb movement in people with stroke. Unlike previous lower limb movements examined with fMRI, pedaling involves continuous, reciprocal, multijoint movement of both limbs. In this respect, pedaling has many characteristics of functional lower limb movements, such as walking. Thus, the importance of our contribution lies in the establishment of a novel paradigm that can be used to understand how the brain adapts to stroke to produce functional lower limb movements. Second, preliminary observations suggest that brain activation volume is reduced during pedaling post-stroke. Reduced brain activation volume may be due to anatomic, physiology, and/or behavioral differences between groups, but methodological issues cannot be excluded. Importantly, brain action volume post-stroke was both task-dependent and mutable, which suggests that it could be modified through rehabilitation. Future work will explore these possibilities.

Author List

Promjunyakul NO, Schmit BD, Schindler-Ivens SM


Sheila Schindler-Ivens PhD Assistant Professor in the Physical Therapy department at Marquette University
Brian Schmit PhD Professor in the Biomedical Engineering department at Marquette University