Key points: The functional role of motor cortical reorganization following spinal cord injury (SCI) remains largely unknown. Here, we tested motor maps in a hand muscle at rest and during voluntary contraction of the hand with and without voluntary contraction of a proximal arm muscle. Motor map area in participants with SCI decreased during hand voluntary contraction and further decreased during additional contraction of a proximal arm muscle compared with rest. In contrast, motor map area in controls increased during the same motor tasks. Participants with SCI with more severe sensory deficits in the hand showed larger decreases in motor map area. Ten minutes of hand muscle–tendon vibration increased the motor map area during voluntary contraction in SCI participants. These novel findings suggest that abnormal changes in motor cortical maps during voluntary contraction after SCI can be reshaped by sensory input, knowledge that can have implications for rehabilitation. Abstract: Motor cortical representations reorganize following cervical spinal cord injury (SCI). The functional role of this reorganization remains largely unknown. Using neuronavigated transcranial magnetic stimulation, we examined motor cortical maps during voluntary contraction in humans with chronic cervical SCI and age-matched controls. We constructed motor maps in the first dorsal interosseous (FDI) muscle at rest and during voluntary contraction of the FDI with and without voluntary contraction of the biceps brachi (BB). The role of sensory input into this reorganization was examined by muscle–tendon vibration. We found that, at rest, motor maps were larger in SCI (22.3 cm2) compared with control (12.6 cm2, P < 0.001) participants. Motor map area increased during voluntary contraction of the FDI (120.7%) and further increased during contraction of the BB (143.9%) compared with rest in control subjects; however, motor map area decreased during voluntary contraction of the FDI (69.5%) and further decreased during contraction of the BB (55.5%) in individuals with SCI. SCI participants with larger decreases in map area during voluntary contraction of the FDI were those with larger sensory deficits in the hand and 10 min of hand muscle–tendon vibration increased motor map area. These results provide the first evidence of abnormal changes in motor cortical maps in humans with chronic SCI during voluntary contraction, suggesting that sensory input can help to reshape this reorganization.
- motor control
- transcranial magnetic stimulation
ASJC Scopus subject areas