Purpose of review: Transcranial methods of cortical stimulation can induce long-term changes in excitability of the cerebral cortex in humans and may be useful as therapeutic interventions in stroke rehabilitation.
Recent findings: Two approaches have been tested: (1) increasing excitability of the cortex in the stroke hemisphere and (2) suppression of the non-stroke hemisphere to reduce potential interference with function of the stroke hemisphere. The interventions have been transcranial direct current stimulation, transcranial magnetic stimulation and implanted epidural stimulation. All have been reported to give 10-20% functional improvement in small numbers of patients in single-session studies as well as in a small number of longer-term therapeutic trials. Preliminary experiments in aphasic patients using transcranial magnetic stimulation in an interference design show, however, that stimulation of the nonstroke hemisphere can in some patients reduce verbal fluency, questioning the general applicability of the second approach.
Summary: Cortical stimulation appears to be a safe and promising intervention for stroke patients. More studies are needed to assess its long-term benefits on substantial numbers of patients. We need to know what type of intervention is best, which patients are likely to benefit, the optimum time to intervene and the duration of any benefits.