New modalities of brain stimulation for stroke rehabilitation

Exp Brain Res. 2013 Feb;224(3):335-58. doi: 10.1007/s00221-012-3315-1. Epub 2012 Nov 29.


Stroke is a leading cause of disability, and the number of stroke survivors continues to rise. Traditional neurorehabilitation strategies aimed at restoring function to weakened limbs provide only modest benefit. New brain stimulation techniques designed to augment traditional neurorehabilitation hold promise for reducing the burden of stroke-related disability. Investigators discovered that repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), and epidural cortical stimulation (ECS) can enhance neural plasticity in the motor cortex post-stroke. Improved outcomes may be obtained with activity-dependent stimulation, in which brain stimulation is contingent on neural or muscular activity during normal behavior. We review the evidence for improved motor function in stroke patients treated with rTMS, tDCS, and ECS and discuss the mediating physiological mechanisms. We compare these techniques to activity-dependent stimulation, discuss the advantages of this newer strategy for stroke rehabilitation, and suggest future applications for activity-dependent brain stimulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / methods*
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Recovery of Function / physiology
  • Stroke / physiopathology
  • Stroke Rehabilitation*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*