Hajiosif, Alkis M.; Meret Branscheidt; Manuel. A. Anaya; Keith D. Runnalls; Jennifer Keller; Amy J. Bastian; Pablo A. Celnik and John W. Krakauer

Most patients with stroke experience motor deficits, usually referred to collectively as hemiparesis. Although hemiparesis is one of the most common and clinically recognizable motor abnormalities, it remains undercharacterized in terms of its behavioral subcomponents and their interactions. Hemiparesis comprises both negative and positive motor signs. Negative signs consist of weakness and loss of motor control (dexterity), whereas positive signs consist of spasticity, abnormal resting posture, and intrusive movement synergies (abnormal muscle co-activations during voluntary movement). How positive and negative signs interact, and whether a common mechanism generates them, remains poorly understood. Here, we used a planar, arm-supported reaching task to assess poststroke arm dexterity loss, which we compared with the Fugl-Meyer stroke scale; a measure primarily reflecting abnormal synergies. We examined 53 patients with hemiparesis after a first-time ischemic stroke. Reaching kinematics were markedly more impaired in patients with subacute (<3 mo) compared to chronic (>6 mo) stroke even for similar Fugl-Meyer scores. This suggests a dissociation between abnormal synergies (reflected in the Fugl-Meyer scale) and loss of dexterity, which in turn suggests different underlying mechanisms. Moreover, dynamometry suggested that Fugl-Meyer scores capture weakness as well as abnormal synergies, in line with these two deficits sharing a neural substrate. These findings have two important implications: First, clinical studies that test for efficacy of rehabilitation interventions should specify which component of hemiparesis they are targeting and how they propose to measure it. Metrics used widely for this purpose may not always be chosen appropriately. For example, as we show here, the Fugl-Meyer score may capture some hemiparesis components (abnormal synergies and weakness) but not others (loss of dexterity). Second, there may be an opportunity to design rehabilitation interventions to address specific subcomponents of hemiparesis.