Background and purpose: Residual motor deficits frequently linger after stroke. Search for newer effective strategies to promote functional recovery is ongoing. Brain stimulation, as a means of directing adaptive plasticity, is appealing. Animal studies and Phase I and II trials in humans have indicated safety, feasibility, and efficacy of combining rehabilitation and concurrent invasive cortical stimulation. However, a recent Phase III trial showed no advantage of the combination. We critically review results of various trials and discuss the factors that contributed to the distinctive result.
Summary of review: Regarding cortical stimulation, it is important to determine the (1) location of peri-infarct representations by integrating multiple neuroanatomical and physiological techniques; (2) role of other mechanisms of stroke recovery; (3) viability of peri-infarct tissue and descending pathways; (4) lesion geometry to ensure no alteration/displacement of current density; and (5) applicability of lessons generated from noninvasive brain stimulation studies in humans. In terms of combining stimulation with rehabilitation, we should understand (1) the principle of homeostatic plasticity; (2) the effect of ongoing cortical activity and phases of learning; and (3) that subject-specific intervention may be necessary.
Conclusions: Future cortical stimulation trials should consider the factors that may have contributed to the peculiar results of the Phase III trial and address those in future study designs.