BACKGROUND: Dual transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to the bilateral primary motor cortices (M1s) has potential benefits in chronic stroke, but its effects in subacute stroke, when behavioural effects might be expected to be greater, have been relatively unexplored. Here, we examined the neurophysiological effects and the factors influencing responsiveness of dual-tDCS in subacute stroke survivors. METHODS: We conducted a randomized sham-controlled crossover study in 18 survivors with first-ever, unilateral subcortical ischaemic stroke 2-4 weeks after stroke onset and 14 matched healthy controls. Participants had real dual-tDCS (with an ipsilesional [right for controls] M1 anode and a contralesional M1 [left for controls] cathode; 2 mA for 20mins) and sham dual-tDCS on separate days, with concurrent paretic [left for controls] hand exercise. Using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and magnetoencephalography (MEG), we recorded motor evoked potentials (MEPs), the ipsilateral silent period (iSP), short-interval intracortical inhibition, and finger movement-related cortical oscillations before and immediately after tDCS. RESULTS: Stroke survivors had decreased excitability in ipsilesional M1 with a relatively excessive transcallosal inhibition from the contralesional to ipsilesional hemisphere at baseline compared with controls, as quantified by decreased MEPs and increased iSP duration. Dual-tDCS led to increased MEPs and decreased iSP duration in ipsilesional M1. The magnitude of the tDCS-induced MEP increase in stroke survivors was predicted by baseline contralesional-to-ipsilesional transcallosal inhibition (iSP) ratio. Baseline post-movement synchronization in α-band activity in ipsilesional M1 was decreased after stroke compared with controls, and its tDCS-induced increase correlated with upper limb score in stroke survivors. No significant adverse effects were observed during or after dual-tDCS. CONCLUSIONS: Task-concurrent dual-tDCS in subacute stroke can safely and effectively modulate bilateral M1 excitability and inter-hemispheric imbalance and also movement-related α-activity.
J Neuroeng Rehabil
Magnetoencephalography, Plasticity, Subacute stroke, Transcallosal inhibition, Transcranial direct current stimulation, Transcranial magnetic stimulation