Tracking the re-organization of motor functions after disconnective surgery: A longitudinal fMRI and DTI study

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Objective: Mechanisms of motor plasticity are critical to maintain motor functions after cerebral damage. This study explores the mechanisms of motor reorganization occurring before and after surgery in four patients with drug-refractory epilepsy candidate to disconnective surgery. Methods: We studied four patients with early damage, who underwent tailored hemispheric surgery in adulthood, removing the cortical motor areas and disconnecting the corticospinal tract (CST) from the affected hemisphere. Motor functions were assessed clinically, with functional MRI (fMRI) tasks of arm and leg movement and Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI) before and after surgery with assessments of up to 3 years. Quantifications of fMRI motor activations and DTI fractional anisotropy (FA) color maps were performed to assess the lateralization of motor network. We hypothesized that lateralization of motor circuits assessed preoperatively with fMRI and DTI was useful to evaluate the motor outcome in these patients. Results: In two cases preoperative DTI-tractography did not reconstruct the CST, and FA-maps were strongly asymmetric. In the other two cases, the affected CST appeared reduced compared to the contralateral one, with modest asymmetry in the FA-maps. fMRI showed different degrees of lateralization of the motor network and the SMA of the intact hemisphere was mostly engaged in all cases. After surgery, patients with a strongly lateralized motor network showed a stable performance. By contrast, a patient with a more bilateral pattern showed worsening of the upper limb function. For all cases, fMRI activations shifted to the intact hemisphere. Structural alterations of motor circuits, observed with FA values, continued beyond 1 year after surgery. Conclusion: In our case series fMRI and DTI could track the longitudinal reorganization of motor functions. In these four patients the more the paretic limbs recruited the intact hemisphere in primary motor and associative areas, the greater the chances were of maintaining elementary motor functions after adult surgery. In particular, DTI-tractography and quantification of FA-maps were useful to assess the lateralization of motor network. In these cases reorganization of motor connectivity continued for long time periods after surgery.

Original languageEnglish
Article number400
JournalFrontiers in Neurology
Issue numberJUN
Publication statusPublished - Jun 5 2018


  • Cortico-spinal tract
  • Disconnective surgery
  • DTI
  • Epilepsy
  • FMRI
  • Motor functions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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