Background: Paired associative stimulation (PAS) combining repeated pairing of electrical stimulation of a peripheral nerve with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) over the primary motor cortex (M1) can induce neuroplastic adaptations in the human brain and enhance motor learning in neurologically-intact individuals. However, the extent to which PAS is an effective technique for inducing associative plasticity and improving motor function in individuals post-stroke is unclear.
Objective: The objective of this pilot study was to investigate the effects of a single session of PAS to modulate corticomotor excitability and motor skill performance in individuals post-stroke.
Methods: Seven individuals with chronic stroke completed two separate visits separated by at least one week. We assessed general corticomotor excitability, intracortical network activity and behavioral outcomes prior to and at three time points following PAS and compared these outcomes to those following a sham PAS condition (PASSHAM).
Results: Following PAS, we found increased general corticomotor excitability but no significant difference in behavioral measures between PAS conditions. There was a relationship between PAS-induced corticomotor excitability increase and enhanced motor skill performance across post-PAS testing time points.
Conclusion: These results provide preliminary evidence for the potential of PAS to increase corticomotor excitability that could favorably impact motor skill performance in chronic individuals post-stroke and are an important first step for future studies investigating the clinical application and behavioral relevance of PAS interventions in post stroke patient populations.
Keywords: Transcranial magnetic stimulation; motor learning; paired associative stimulation.