Structural and functional correlates of neuroplastic change associated with stroke

In Canada, stroke is the third leading cause of neurological disease and death. Although improved acute care has resulted in greater survival rates, an increased number of Canadians suffer long-term neurological disability and a decreased quality of life following a stroke. With an aging Canadian population, the need for efficient and effective diagnostic tools and rehabilitation strategies are critical so that stroke survivors can maintain independence and a high quality of life. Currently, the assessment of recovery and motor learning after a stroke focuses on neuroimaging techniques that indicate the status of gray matter within the central nervous system, which consists primarily of cell bodies. However, data characterizing how white matter supports motor learning and recovery after a stroke has been notably absent.

The goal of the study is to explore and understand the mechanisms associated with learning-dependent changes of white matter in the central nervous system. The proposed research plan will attempt to, firstly, understand whether motor learning is associated with changes in the white matter micro-structure and, secondly, relate changes in brain structure and neurophysiology to learning and functional recovery after stroke.

The intended research will provide unprecedented insight into areas of the stroke-injured brain that respond to motor learning. More importantly, this work will enhance the understanding of the effects of motor learning on functional recovery and generate the opportunity to develop novel therapeutic interventions for the growing population of individuals living with the after-effects of stroke.