Experimental Brain Research

, Volume 177, Issue 2, pp 233–242 | Cite as

Effects of motor imagery training after chronic, complete spinal cord injury

  • Steven C. Cramer
  • Elizabeth L. R. Orr
  • Michael J. Cohen
  • Michael G. Lacourse
Research Article


Abnormalities in brain motor system function are present following spinal cord injury (SCI) and could reduce effectiveness of restorative interventions. Motor imagery training, which can improve motor behavior and modulate brain function, might address this concern but has not been examined in subjects with SCI. Ten subjects with SCI and complete tetra-/paraplegia plus ten healthy controls underwent assessment before and after 7 days of motor imagery training to tongue and to foot. Motor imagery training significantly improved the behavioral outcome measure, speed of movement, in non-paralyzed muscles. Training was also associated with increased fMRI activation in left putamen, an area associated with motor learning, during attempted right foot movement in both groups, despite foot movements being present in controls and absent in subjects with SCI. This fMRI change was absent in a second healthy control group serially imaged without training. In subjects with SCI, training exaggerated, rather than normalized, baseline derangement of left globus pallidus activation. The current study found that motor imagery training improves motor performance and alters brain function in subjects with complete SCI despite lack of voluntary motor control and peripheral feedback. These effects of motor imagery training on brain function have not been previously described in a neurologically impaired population, and were similar to those found in healthy controls. Motor imagery might be of value as one component of a restorative intervention.


Motor system Imagery Plasticity Putamen Globus pallidus Spinal cord injury 



We thank Steven Kanor, PhD, of Enabling Devices (Hastings-on-Hudson, NY) for his generosity in assisting with construction of the sensor devices that digitally recorded tapping of the tongue and foot 5-part sequences. This study was supported by the Roman Reed Spinal Cord Injury Research Fund of California, and by grant M01 RR000827-29 from the U.C. Irvine General Clinical Research Centers Program of the National Center for Research Resources, National Institutes of Health.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Steven C. Cramer
    • 1
    • 5
  • Elizabeth L. R. Orr
    • 1
    • 2
  • Michael J. Cohen
    • 2
    • 3
  • Michael G. Lacourse
    • 2
    • 4
  1. 1.Departments of Neurology and Anatomy and Neurobiology, Associate, Reeve-Irvine Research CenterUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA
  2. 2.V.A. Long Beach Neuroimaging Research LabLong BeachUSA
  3. 3.Department of Psychiatry and Human BehaviorUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA
  4. 4.Deparment of KinesiologyCalifornia State UniversityLong BeachUSA
  5. 5.UCI Medical CenterUniversity of California, IrvineOrangeUSA

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