OBJECTIVE: To investigate blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) activation during somatosensory electrical stimulation of the median nerve in acute stroke patients and to determine its correlation with ischemic damage and clinical recovery over time. METHODS: Fourteen acute stroke patients underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) during contralesional median-nerve electrical stimulation 12-48h after stroke. Findings were then validated by diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and motor evoked potential by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). RESULTS: Poor clinical recovery at three months was noted in four patients with no activation in the early days after stroke, whereas good clinical recovery was observed in eight patients with a normal activation pattern in the primary sensory motor area in the acute phase. In two patients BOLD activation correlated weakly with clinical recovery. Findings from TMS and DTI partially correlated with clinical recovery and functional scores. CONCLUSIONS: Clinically relevant insights into the "functional reserve" of stroke patients gained with peripheral nerve stimulation during fMRI may carry prognostic value already in the acute period of a cerebrovascular accident. SIGNIFICANCE: BOLD activation maps could provide insights into the functional organization of the residual systems and could contribute to medical decision making in neurological and rehabilitative treatment.
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