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Reeve's Brain Responds to Movement

Tests Encourage Spinal Cord Patients to Push Themselves In Therapy
WebMD Health News

Dec. 10, 2002 -- New tests show that, despite paralysis, actor Christopher Reeve's brain circuits still act much the same as anyone else's. The findings give hope to Reeve and others with spinal cord injuries that through intense physical therapy, they could recover more limb function than once thought possible.

The report appears in this month's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Muarizio Corbetta, MD, a neurology researcher at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is lead author.

In their study, Corbetta and colleagues performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to map Reeve's brain activity in response to movement and touch.

They found no activity in brain regions that normally are associated with sensation of the hand. Instead these sensations were abnormally driven by other regions.

However, they found "surprising" normal brain activity after stimulation to the foot and in response to voluntary movements of the tongue and finger, Corbetta reports.

When these "movement study" results were compared with similar tests of a normal 23-year-old, they found only slight differences.

These responses indicate that some functional nerve connection might remain after incomplete spinal cord injury and the brain can maintain some normal nerve organization.

Researchers speculate that the partial recovery was likely due to the "extraordinary and intensive" physical therapy that Reeve has been engaged in since his accident.

"The findings provide hope for rehabilitation and treatments aimed at recovery of function," says a news release accompanying the study.

SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, December 2002.

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