Background. Proprioception of fingers is essential for motor control. Reduced proprioception is common after stroke and is associated with longer hospitalization and reduced quality of life. Neural correlates of proprioception deficits after stroke remain incompletely understood, partly because of weaknesses of clinical proprioception assessments.
Objective. To examine the neural basis of finger proprioception deficits after stroke. We hypothesized that a model incorporating both neural injury and neural function of the somatosensory system is necessary for delineating proprioception deficits poststroke.
Methods. Finger proprioception was measured using a robot in 27 individuals with chronic unilateral stroke; measures of neural injury (damage to gray and white matter, including corticospinal and thalamocortical sensory tracts), neural function (activation of and connectivity of cortical sensorimotor areas), and clinical status (demographics and behavioral measures) were also assessed.
Results. Impairment in finger proprioception was present contralesionally in 67% and bilaterally in 56%. Robotic measures of proprioception deficits were more sensitive than standard scales and were specific to proprioception. Multivariable modeling found that contralesional proprioception deficits were best explained (r2 = 0.63; P = .0006) by a combination of neural function (connectivity between ipsilesional secondary somatosensory cortex and ipsilesional primary motor cortex) and neural injury (total sensory system injury).
Conclusions. Impairment of finger proprioception occurs frequently after stroke and is best measured using a quantitative device such as a robot. A model containing a measure of neural function plus a measure of neural injury best explained proprioception performance. These measurements might be useful in the development of novel neurorehabilitation therapies.