Motor tract integrity predicts walking recovery: A diffusion MRI study in subacute stroke


To identify candidate biomarkers of walking recovery with motor tract integrity measurements using fractional anisotropy (FA) from the corticospinal tract (CST) and alternative motor pathways in patients with moderate to severe subacute stroke.


Walking recovery was first assessed with generalized linear mixed model (GLMM) with repeated measures of walking scores (WS) over 2 years of follow-up in a longitudinal study of 29 patients with subacute ischemic stroke. Baseline FA measures from the ipsilesional and contralesional CST (i-CST and c-CST), cortico-reticulospinal pathway (i-CRP and c-CRP), and cerebellar peduncles were derived from a 60-direction diffusion MRI sequence on a 3T scanner. We performed correlation tests between WS and FA measures. Third, we investigated using GLMM whether motor tract integrity contributes to predict walking recovery.


We observed significant improvements of WS over time with a plateau reached at 6 months after stroke. WS significantly correlated with FA measures from i-CST, c-CST, i-CRP, and bilateral cerebellar peduncles. Walking recovery was predicted by FA measures from 3 tracts: i-CST, i-CRP, and contralesional superior cerebellar peduncle (c-SCP). Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) predictors captured 80.5% of the unexplained variance of the model without DTI.


We identified i-CST and alternative motor-related tracts (namely i-CRP and c-SCP) as candidate biomarkers of walking recovery. The role of the SCP in walk recovery may rely on cerebellar nuclei projections to the thalamus, red nucleus, and reticular formation. Our findings suggest that a set of white matter tracts, part of subcortical motor networks, contribute to walking recovery in patients with moderate to severe stroke.

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