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Diffusion tensor imaging as a prognostic biomarker for motor recovery and rehabilitation after stroke



Despite improved acute treatment and new tools to facilitate recovery, most patients have motor deficits after stroke, often causing disability. However, motor impairment varies considerably among patients, and recovery in the acute/subacute phase is difficult to predict using clinical measures alone, particularly in severely impaired patients. Accurate early prediction of recovery would help rationalize rehabilitation goals and improve the design of trials testing strategies to facilitate recovery.


We review the role of diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) in predicting motor recovery after stroke, in monitoring treatment response, and in evaluating white matter remodeling. We critically appraise DTI studies and discuss their limitations, and we explore directions for future study.


Growing evidence suggests that combining clinical scores with information about corticospinal tract (CST) integrity can improve predictions about motor outcome. The extent of CST damage on DTI and/or the overlap between the CST and a lesion are key prognostic factor that determines motor performance and outcome. Three main strategies to quantify stroke-related CST damage have been proposed: (i) measuring FA distal to the stroke area, (ii) measuring the number of fibers that go through the stroke with tractography, and (iii) measuring the overlap between the stroke and a CST map derived from healthy age- and gender-matched controls.


Recovery of motor function probably involves remodeling of the CST proper and/or a greater reliance on alternative motor tracts through spontaneous and treatment-induced plasticity. DTI-metrics represent promising clinical biomarkers to predict motor recovery and to monitor and predict the response to neurorehabilitative interventions.

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Correspondence to Josep Puig.

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This study was funded by a grant from the Spanish Ministry of Health (Fondo de Investigaciones Sanitarias, Reference PI060745).

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki Declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Puig, J., Blasco, G., Schlaug, G. et al. Diffusion tensor imaging as a prognostic biomarker for motor recovery and rehabilitation after stroke. Neuroradiology 59, 343–351 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00234-017-1816-0

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  • Stroke
  • Recovery
  • Rehabilitation
  • MRI
  • Diffusion tensor imaging