In subacute stroke patients we studied cortical oxygenation changes by near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) during a motor task performed with the hemiparetic arm (15 s of reaching and grasping, 45 s of rest, repeated 6 times). Twenty-three subjects were included at baseline, compared with six healthy subjects, and restudied after 6 weeks of rehabilitation. Motor/premotor cortical changes in oxyhemoglobin detected by NIRS were quantified as the area under the curve (AUC) for the total cortex (TOT-AUC) and for both affected (AFF-AUC) and unaffected hemispheres (UN-AUC). The ratio between AUC and the number of task repetitions performed identified the cortical metabolic cost (CMC) or the oxygenation increase for a single movement. Fugl–Meyer assessment of the upper extremity (FMA-UE) was also performed. At baseline, both total and hemispheric CMC were significantly higher in stroke patients than in healthy subjects and inversely correlated with FMA-UE. After rehabilitation, changes in total-CMC and unaffected-CMC, but not Affected-CMC, were inversely correlated with variations in the FMA-UE score. A value > 5000 a.u. for the ratio baseline TOT-CMC /days since stroke was associated with not reaching the clinically important difference for FMA-UE after rehabilitation. In subacute stroke the CMC, a biomarker assessed by NIRS during a motor task with the hemiparetic arm, may describe cortical time/treatment reorganization and favor patient selection for rehabilitation.
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