Study Title:

Somatosensory cortical plasticity in carpal tunnel syndrome--a cross-sectional fMRI evaluation.

Study Abstract

Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common entrapment neuropathy of the median nerve characterized by paresthesias and pain in the first, second, and third digits. We hypothesize that aberrant afferent input in CTS will lead to cortical plasticity. Functional MRI (fMRI) and neurophysiological testing were performed on CTS patients and healthy adults. Median nerve innervated digit 2 (D2), and digit 3 (D3) and ulnar nerve innervated digit 5 (D5) were stimulated during fMRI. Surface-based and ROI-based analyses consistently demonstrated more extensive and stronger contralateral sensorimotor cortical representations of D2 and D3 for CTS patients as compared to healthy adults (P < 0.05). Differences were less profound for D5. Moreover, D3 fMRI activation in both the contralateral SI and motor cortex correlated positively with the D3 sensory conduction latency. Analysis of somatotopy suggested that contralateral SI representations for D2 and D3 were less separated for CTS patients (3.8 +/- 1.0 mm) than for healthy adults (7.5 +/- 1.2 mm). Furthermore, the D3/D2 separation distance correlated negatively with D2 sensory conduction latency-the greater the latency, the closer the D2/D3 cortical representations (r = -0.79, P < 0.05). Coupled with a greater extent of SI representation for these CTS affected digits, the closer cortical representations can be interpreted as a blurred somatotopic arrangement for CTS affected digits. These findings provide further evidence that CTS is not manifest in the periphery alone. Our results are consistent with Hebbian plasticity mechanisms, as our cohort of CTS patients had predominant paresthesias, which produce more temporally coherent afferent signaling from affected digits.

Study Information

Neuroimage. 2006 Jun;31(2):520-30. Epub 2006 Feb 3.

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