New Publication: Distinguishing Distinct Neural Systems for Proximal vs Distal Upper Extremity Motor Control After Acute Stroke

Congratulations to LTNr members for their new publication in the American Academy of Neurology entitled, “Distinguishing Distinct Neural Systems for Proximal vs Distal Upper Extremity Motor Control After Acute Stroke”, which examines the disparate impact of acute stroke on proximal and distal upper extremity motor systems. This study highlights the diverse clinical manifestations of post-stroke upper extremity weakness, which can be attributed to damage in distinct motor systems.



Authors: David J. Lin, Richard Hardstone, Julie A. DiCarlo, Sydney McKiernan, Samuel B. Snider, Hannah Jacobs, Kimberly S. Erler, Kelly Rishe, Pierce Boyne, Jeff Goldsmith, Jessica Ranford, Seth P. Finklestein, Lee H. Schwamm, Leigh R. Hochberg, Steven C. Cramer.




Background and Objectives: The classic and singular pattern of distal greater than proximal upper extremity motor deficits after acute stroke does not account for the distinct structural and functional organization of circuits for proximal and distal motor control in the healthy CNS. We hypothesized that separate proximal and distal upper extremity clinical syndromes after acute stroke could be distinguished, and that patterns of neuroanatomical injury leading to these two syndromes would reflect their distinct organization in the intact CNS.


Methods: Proximal and distal components of motor impairment (upper extremity Fugl-Meyer score) and strength (Shoulder Abduction Finger Extension score) were assessed in consecutively recruited patients within seven days of acute stroke. Partial correlation analysis was used to assess the relationship between proximal and distal motor scores. Functional outcomes including the Box & Blocks Test, Barthel Index, and modified Rankin Scale were examined in relation to proximal versus distal motor patterns of deficit. Voxel-based lesion-symptom mapping was used to identify regions of injury associated with proximal versus distal upper extremity motor deficits.


Results: A total of 141 consecutive patients (49% female) were assessed 4.0 ± 1.6 (mean ± SD) days after stroke onset. Separate proximal and distal upper extremity motor components were distinguishable after acute stroke (p = 0.002). A pattern of proximal more than distal injury (i.e., relatively preserved distal motor control) was not rare, observed in 23% of acute stroke subjects. Patients with relatively preserved distal motor control, even after controlling for total extent of deficit, had better outcomes in the first week and at 90-days post-stroke (Box and Block Test, ρ = 0.51, p < 0.001; Barthel Index, ρ = 0.41, p < 0.001; modified Rankin Scale, ρ = 0.38, p < 0.001). Deficits in proximal motor control were associated with widespread injury to subcortical white and gray matter, while deficits in distal motor control were associated with injury restricted to the posterior aspect of the precentral gyrus, consistent with the organization of proximal versus distal neural circuits in the healthy CNS.


Conclusions: These results highlight that proximal and distal upper extremity motor systems can be selectively injured by acute stroke, with dissociable deficits and functional consequences. Our findings emphasize how disruption of distinct motor systems can contribute to separable components of post-stroke upper extremity hemiparesis.