Visuomotor processing is altered after peripheral nerve damage in neuralgic amyotrophy

Renee Lustenhouwer, Ian G. M. Cameron, Elze Wolfs, Nens van Alfen, Ivan Toni, Alexander C. H. Geurts, Baziel G. M. van Engelen, Jan T. Groothuis, Rick C. Helmich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Neuralgic amyotrophy is a common peripheral nerve disorder caused by autoimmune inflammation of the brachial plexus, clinically characterized by acute pain and weakness of the shoulder muscles, followed by motor impairment. Despite recovery of the peripheral nerves, patients often have residual motor dysfunction of the upper extremity, leading to persistent pain related to altered biomechanics of the shoulder region. Building on clinical signs that suggest a role for cerebral mechanisms in these residual complaints, here we show and characterize cerebral alterations following neuralgic amyotrophy. Neuralgic amyotrophy patients often develop alternative motor strategies, which suggests that (mal)adaptations may occur in somatomotor and/or visuomotor brain areas. Here, we tested where changes in cerebral sensorimotor representations occur in neuralgic amyotrophy, while controlling for altered motor execution due to peripheral neuropathy. We additionally explore the relation between potential cerebral alterations in neuralgic amyotrophy and clinical symptoms. During functional MRI scanning, 39 neuralgic amyotrophy patients with persistent, lateralized symptoms in the right upper extremity and 23 matched healthy participants solved a hand laterality judgement task that can activate sensorimotor representations of the upper extremity, across somatomotor and visuomotor brain areas. Behavioural and cerebral responses confirmed the involvement of embodied, sensorimotor processes across groups. Compared with healthy participants, neuralgic amyotrophy patients were slower in hand laterality judgement and had decreased cerebral activity specific to their affected limb in two higher-order visual brain regions: the right extrastriate cortex and the parieto-occipital sulcus. Exploratory analyses revealed that across patients, extrastriate activity specific to the affected limb decreased as persistent pain increased, and affected limb-related parieto-occipital activity decreased as imagery performance of the affected limb became slower. These findings suggest that maladaptive cerebral plasticity in visuomotor areas involved in sensorimotor integration plays a role in residual motor dysfunction and subsequent persistent pain in neuralgic amyotrophy. Rehabilitation interventions that apply visuomotor strategies to improve sensorimotor integration may help to treat neuralgic amyotrophy patients.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberfcac034
Pages (from-to)1-16
JournalBrain Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jan 2022


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