INTRODUCTION: We previously found that atypical responses to the knee jerk reflex, i.e., tonic responses (TRs), clonus and contralateral responses in very high-risk (VHR) infants were associated with cerebral palsy (CP) at 21 months. The current study aimed for a better understanding of pathophysiology of atypical knee jerk responses by evaluating whether infant atypical knee jerk responses are associated with CP and atypical knee jerk responses at school-age.
METHODS: 31 VHR-children, who had also been assessed longitudinally during infancy, and 24 typically developing children, were assessed at 7-10 years (school-age). We continuously recorded surface EMG of thigh muscles during knee jerk responses longitudinally during infancy and once at school-age. Neurological condition was assessed with age-appropriate neurological examinations. It included the diagnosis of CP at 21 months corrected age and school-age. CP's type and severity (Gross Motor Function Classification System (GMFCS)) were reported.
RESULTS: Persistent TRs in infancy were associated with CP at school-age. TR prevalence decreased from infancy to childhood. At school-age it was no longer associated with CP. Clonus prevalence in VHR-children did not change with increasing age; it was significantly higher in children without than those with CP. Reflex irradiation was common in all school-age children, and its prevalence in contralateral muscles in VHR-children decreased between infancy and childhood.
CONCLUSIONS: In infancy, TRs indicated an increased risk of CP, but at school-age TRs were not associated with CP. In general, spinal hyperexcitability, expressed as reflex irradiation and TRs, decreased between infancy and school-age.