Evidence for Training-Dependent Structural Neuroplasticity in Brain-Injured Patients: A Critical Review

Caeyenberghs, Karen, Clemente, Adam, Imms, Phoebe, Egan, Gary, Hocking, Darren R., Leemans, Alexander, Metzler-Baddeley, Claudia, Jones, Derek K., Wilson, Peter H.


Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair


Acquired brain injury (ABI) is associated with a range of cognitive and motor deficits, and poses a significant personal, societal, and economic burden. Rehabilitation programs are available that target motor skills or cognitive functioning. In this review, we summarize the existing evidence that training may enhance structural neuroplasticity in patients with ABI, as assessed using structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)–based techniques that probe microstructure or morphology. Twenty-five research articles met key inclusion criteria. Most trials measured relevant outcomes and had treatment benefits that would justify the risk of potential harm. The rehabilitation program included a variety of task-oriented movement exercises (such as facilitation therapy, postural control training), neurorehabilitation techniques (such as constraint-induced movement therapy) or computer-assisted training programs (eg, Cogmed program). The reviewed studies describe regional alterations in white matter architecture and/or gray matter volume with training. Only weak-to-moderate correlations were observed between improved behavioral function and structural changes. While structural MRI is a powerful tool for detection of longitudinal structural changes, specific measures about the underlying biological mechanisms are lacking. Continued work in this field may potentially see structural MRI metrics used as biomarkers to help guide treatment at the individual patient level.