Patient-tailored transcranial direct current stimulation to improve stroke rehabilitation: study protocol of a randomized sham-controlled trial

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Background: Many patients do not fully regain motor function after ischemic stroke. Transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) targeting the motor cortex may improve motor outcome as an add-on intervention to physical rehabilitation. However, beneficial effects on motor function vary largely among patients within and across TDCS trials. In addition to a large heterogeneity of study designs, this variability may be caused by the fact that TDCS was given as a one-size-fits-all protocol without accounting for anatomical differences between subjects. The efficacy and consistency of TDCS might be improved by a patient-tailored design that ensures precise targeting of a physiologically relevant area with an appropriate current strength.

Methods: In a randomized, double-blinded, sham-controlled trial, patients with subacute ischemic stroke and residual upper-extremity paresis will receive two times 20 min of focal TDCS of ipsilesional primary motor hand area (M1-HAND) during supervised rehabilitation training three times weekly for 4 weeks. Anticipated 60 patients will be randomly assigned to active or sham TDCS of ipsilesional M1-HAND, using a central anode and four equidistant cathodes. The placement of the electrode grid on the scalp and current strength at each cathode will be personalized based on individual electrical field models to induce an electrical current of 0.2 V/m in the cortical target region resulting in current strengths between 1 and 4 mA. Primary endpoint will be the difference in change of Fugl-Meyer Assessment of Upper Extremity (FMA-UE) score between active TDCS and sham at the end of the intervention. Exploratory endpoints will include UE-FMA at 12 weeks. Effects of TDCS on motor network connectivity and interhemispheric inhibition will be assessed with functional MRI and transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Discussion: The study will show the feasibility and test the efficacy of personalized, multi-electrode anodal TDCS of M1-HAND in patients with subacute stroke patients with upper-extremity paresis. Concurrent multimodal brain mapping will shed light into the mechanisms of action of therapeutic personalized TDCS of M1-HAND. Together, the results from this trial may inform future personalized TDCS studies in patients with focal neurological deficits after stroke.

Original languageEnglish
Article number216
Number of pages16
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

© 2023. The Author(s).

    Research areas

  • Humans, Stroke rehabilitation, Transcranial direct current stimulation, Ischemic stroke, Recovery of function, Upper Extremity, Neurorehabilitation, Neuroplasticity

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