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Open Access Research

Correlating lesion size and location to deficits after ischemic stroke: the influence of accounting for altered peri-necrotic tissue and incidental silent infarcts

Lisa D Alexander123, Sandra E Black12345, Fuqiang Gao1234, Gregory Szilagyi34, Cynthia J Danells23 and William E McIlroy1256*

Author Affiliations

1 Heart and Stroke Foundation Centre for Stroke Recovery, ON, Canada

2 Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre Research Institute, Toronto ON, Canada

3 University of Toronto, Toronto ON, Canada

4 L.C. Campbell Cognitive Neurology Research Unit, Toronto ON, Canada

5 Department of Medicine (Neurology) at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre & University of Toronto, Toronto ON, Canada

6 Department of Kinesiology, University of Waterloo, Waterloo ON, Canada

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Behavioral and Brain Functions 2010, 6:6  doi:10.1186/1744-9081-6-6

Published: 19 January 2010

Abstract

Background

Investigators frequently quantify and evaluate the location and size of stroke lesions to help uncover cerebral anatomical correlates of deficits observed after first-ever stroke. However, it is common to discover silent infarcts such as lacunes in patients identified clinically as 'first-ever' stroke, and it is unclear if including these incidental findings may impact lesion-based investigations of brain-behaviour relationships. There is also debate concerning how to best define the boundaries of necrotic stroke lesions that blend in an ill-defined way into surrounding tissue, as it is unclear whether including this altered peri-necrotic tissue region may influence studies of brain-behaviour relationships. Therefore, for patients with clinically overt stroke, we examined whether including altered peri-necrotic tissue and incidental silent strokes influenced either lesion volume correlations with a measure of sensorimotor impairment or the anatomical localization of this impairment established using subtraction lesion analysis.

Methods

Chronic stroke lesions of 41 patients were manually traced from digital T1-MRI to sequentially include the: necrotic lesion core, altered peri-necrotic tissue, silent lesions in the same hemisphere as the index lesion, and silent lesions in the opposite hemisphere. Lesion volumes for each region were examined for correlation with motor impairment scores, and subtraction analysis was used to highlight anatomical lesion loci associated with this deficit.

Results

For subtraction lesion analysis, including peri-necrotic tissue resulted in a larger region of more frequent damage being seen in the basal ganglia. For correlational analysis, only the volume of the lesion core was significantly associated with motor impairment scores (r = -0.35, p = 0.025). In a sub-analysis of patients with small subcortical index lesions, adding silent lesions in the opposite hemisphere to the volume of the index stroke strengthened the volume-impairment association.

Conclusions

Including peri-necrotic tissue strengthened lesion localization analysis, but the influence of peri-necrotic tissue and incidental lesions on lesion volume correlations with motor impairment was negligible barring a small index lesion. Overall, the potential influence of incidental lesions and peri-necrotic tissue on brain-behaviour relationships may depend on the characteristics of the index stroke and on whether one is examining the relationship between lesion volume and impairment or lesion location and impairment.