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Motor recovery
Transcranial direct current stimulation
Brain-computer interface
Motor imagery
Issue Date: 
Chew, E., Teo, W.-P., Tang, N., Ang, K. K., Ng, Y. S., Zhou, J. H., Teh, I., Phua, K. S., Zhao, L., & Guan, C. (2020). Using Transcranial direct current stimulation to augment the effect of motor imagery-assisted brain-computer interface training in chronic stroke patients: Cortical reorganization considerations. Frontiers in Neurology, 11, Article 948.
Introduction: Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been shown to modulate cortical plasticity, enhance motor learning and post-stroke upper extremity motor recovery. It has also been demonstrated to facilitate activation of brain-computer interface (BCI) in stroke patients. We had previously demonstrated that BCI-assisted motor imagery (MI-BCI) can improve upper extremity impairment in chronic stroke participants. This study was carried out to investigate the effects of priming with tDCS prior to MI-BCI training in chronic stroke patients with moderate to severe upper extremity paresis and to investigate the cortical activity changes associated with training.

Methods: This is a double-blinded randomized clinical trial. Participants were randomized to receive 10 sessions of 20-min 1 mA tDCS or sham-tDCS before MI-BCI, with the anode applied to the ipsilesional, and the cathode to the contralesional primary motor cortex (M1). Upper extremity sub-scale of the Fugl-Meyer Assessment (UE-FM) and corticospinal excitability measured by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) were assessed before, after and 4 weeks after intervention.

Results: Ten participants received real tDCS and nine received sham tDCS. UE-FM improved significantly in both groups after intervention. Of those with unrecordable motor evoked potential (MEP-) to the ipsilesional M1, significant improvement in UE-FM was found in the real-tDCS group, but not in the sham group. Resting motor threshold (RMT) of ipsilesional M1 decreased significantly after intervention in the real-tDCS group. Short intra-cortical inhibition (SICI) in the contralesional M1 was reduced significantly following intervention in the sham group. Correlation was found between baseline UE-FM score and changes in the contralesional SICI for all, as well as between changes in UE-FM and changes in contralesional RMT in the MEP- group.

Conclusion: MI-BCI improved the motor function of the stroke-affected arm in chronic stroke patients with moderate to severe impairment. tDCS did not confer overall additional benefit although there was a trend toward greater benefit. Cortical activity changes in the contralesional M1 associated with functional improvement suggests a possible role for the contralesional M1 in stroke recovery in more severely affected patients. This has important implications in designing neuromodulatory interventions for future studies and tailoring treatment.

Clinical Trial Registration: The study was registered at (NCT01897025).
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Funding Agency: 
National Medical Research Council, Singapore.
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