Background: Bihemispheric transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) of the primary motor cortex (M1) can simultaneously modulate bilateral corticospinal excitability and interhemispheric interaction. However, how tDCS affects subacute stroke recovery remains unclear. We investigated the effects of bihemispheric tDCS on motor recovery in subacute stroke patients. Methods: We enrolled subacute inpatients who had first-ever ischemic stroke at subcortical regions and moderate-to-severe baseline Fugl-Meyer Assessment of Upper Extremity (FMA-UE) score 2–56. Participants between 14 and 28 days after stroke were double-blind, randomly assigned (1:1) to receive real (n = 13) or sham (n = 14) bihemispheric tDCS (with ipsilesional M1 anode and contralesional M1 cathode, 20 min, 2 mA) during task practice twice daily for 20 sessions in two weeks. Residual integrity of the ipsilesional corticospinal tract was stratified between groups. The primary efficacy outcome was the change in FMA-UE score from baseline (responder as an increase ≥ 10). The secondary measures included changes in the Action Research Arm Test (ARAT), FMA-Lower Extremity (FMA-LE) and explorative resting-state MRI functional connectivity (FC) of target regions after intervention and three months post-stroke. Results: Twenty-seven participants completed the study without significant adverse effects. Nineteen patients (70%) had no recordable baseline motor-evoked potentials (MEP-negative) from the paretic forearm. Compared with the sham group, the real tDCS group showed enhanced improvement of FMA-UE after intervention (p < 0.01, effect size η2 = 0.211; responder rate: 77% vs. 36%, p = 0.031), which sustained three months post-stroke (p < 0.01), but not ARAT. Interestingly, in the MEP-negative subgroup analysis, the FMA-UE improvement remained but delayed. Additionally, the FMA-LE improvement after real tDCS was not significantly greater until three months post-stroke (p < 0.01). We found that the individual FMA-UE improvements after real tDCS were associated with bilateral intrahemispheric, rather than interhemispheric, FC strengths in the targeted cortices, while the improvements after sham tDCS were associated with predominantly ipsilesional FC changes after adjustment for age and sex (p < 0.01). Conclusions: Bihemispheric tDCS during task-oriented training may facilitate motor recovery in subacute stroke patients, even with compromised corticospinal tract integrity. Further studies are warranted for tDCS efficacy and network-specific neuromodulation. Trial registration: This study is registered with ClinicalTrials.gov: (ID: NCT02731508).
|Journal||Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation|
|State||Published - Dec 2023|
- Functional connectivity
- Upper extremity