We investigated cortically mediated changes in reciprocal inhibition (RI) following motor imagery (MI) in short- and long(er)-term periods. The goals of this study were (1) to describe RI during MI in patients with chronic stroke and (2) to examine the change in RI after MI-based brain-machine interface (BMI) training. Twenty-four chronic stroke patients participated in study 1. All patients imagined wrist extension on the affected side. RI from the extensor carpi radialis to the flexor carpi radialis (FCR) was assessed using a FCR H reflex conditioning-test paradigm. We calculated the "MI effect score on RI" (RI value during MI divided by that at rest) and compared that score according to lesion location. RI during MI showed a significant enhancement compared with RI at rest. The MI effect score on RI in the subcortical lesion group was significantly greater than that in the cortical lesion group. Eleven stroke patients participated in study 2. All patients performed BMI training for 10 days. The MI effect score on RI at a 20 ms interstimulus interval was significantly increased after BMI compared with baseline. In conclusion, mental practice with MI may induce plastic change in spinal reciprocal inhibitory circuits in patients with stroke.
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