Hand function assessment in the first years of life in unilateral cerebral palsy: Correlation with neuroimaging and cortico-spinal reorganization

Giovanni Baranello, Davide Rossi Sebastiano, Emanuela Pagliano, Elisa Visani, Claudia Ciano, Adriana Fumarola, Maria Teresa Arnoldi, Alice Corlatti, Maria Foscan, Alessia Marchi, Alessandra Erbetta, Daria Riva

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aim The purpose of the present study was to correlate early hand function assessment during the first years of life with neuroimaging findings and the different patterns of cortico-motor reorganization in children with unilateral cerebral palsy (UCP). Methods We conducted a long prospective observational study, in which 17 children with UCP (8 left-sided hemiplegia; Manual Ability Classification System level 1-3) were first assessed at a mean age of 24 months (range 18-28), and followed up by means of the Besta Scale, a new standardized protocol assessing both unimanual and bimanual hand function. They also underwent Melbourne Assessment of Unilateral Upper Limb Function (MUUL) and single-pulse Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) at a mean age of 10 years 5 months (range 9 y 1 m-12 y 8 m). Brain MRIs of all the 17 children were independently assessed and scored by two blinded observers, according to a defined protocol. Possible correlations between hand function at first assessment, neuroimaging and TMS data were analyzed. Results Early hand function impairment significantly correlated with the extension of brain damage (ρ = -0.531, p = 0.028), number of involved areas (ρ = -0.608, p = 0.010), presence of radiological signs of cortico-spinal degeneration (ρ = -0.628, p = 0.007), and basal ganglia involvement (ρ = -0.485, p = 0.049). Additionally, higher hand function scores (i.e. better hand function) at first assessment significantly correlated with contralateral cortico-spinal projections, while lower scores significantly correlated with either mixed or ipsilateral cortico-spinal projections to the affected hand (χ2(2) = 11.418, p = 0.003; post-hoc tests: contralateral TMS group versus ipsilateral: Z = -2.943, p = 0.002 and contralateral TMS group versus mixed: Z = -2.775, p = 0.006). Conclusions To our knowledge, this is the first study correlating hand function assessment in the first years of life, and its evolution over time, with neuroimaging and cortico-spinal projection patterns in children with UCP. These findings could contribute to an improved prediction of prognosis and a better delineation of therapeutic interventions in young children with UCP.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-124
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Paediatric Neurology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2016


  • Brain lesions
  • Cortico-spinal projections
  • Hand function assessment
  • TMS
  • Unilateral cerebral palsy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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