Importance: Gait and balance impairment is associated with poorer functional recovery after stroke. The cerebellum is known to be strongly implicated in the functional reorganization of motor networks in patients with stroke, especially for gait and balance functions.
Objective: To determine whether cerebellar intermittent θ-burst stimulation (CRB-iTBS) can improve balance and gait functions in patients with hemiparesis due to stroke.
Design, setting, participants: This randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled phase IIa trial investigated efficacy and safety of a 3-week treatment of CRB-iTBS coupled with physiotherapy in promoting gait and balance recovery in patients with stroke. Thirty-six patients with consecutive ischemic chronic stroke in the territory of the contralateral middle cerebral artery with hemiparesis were recruited from a neuro-rehabilitation hospital. Participants were screened and enrolled from March 2013 to June 2017. Intention-to-treat analysis was performed.
Interventions: Patients were randomly assigned to treatment with CRB-iTBS or sham iTBS applied over the cerebellar hemisphere ipsilateral to the affected body side immediately before physiotherapy daily during 3 weeks.
Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was the between-group difference in change from baseline in the Berg Balance Scale. Secondary exploratory measures included the between-group difference in change from baseline in Fugl-Meyer Assessment scale, Barthel Index, and locomotion assessment with gait analysis and cortical activity measured by transcranial magnetic stimulation in combination with electroencephalogram.
Results: A total of 34 patients (mean [SD] age, 64 [11.3] years; 13 women [38.2%]) completed the study. Patients treated with CRB-iTBS, but not with sham iTBS, showed an improvement of gait and balance functions, as revealed by a pronounced increase in the mean (SE) Berg Balance Scale score (baseline: 34.5 [3.4]; 3 weeks after treatment: 43.4 [2.6]; 3 weeks after the end of treatment: 47.5 [1.8]; P < .001). No overall treatment-associated differences were noted in the Fugl-Meyer Assessment (mean [SE], baseline: 163.8 [6.8]; 3 weeks after treatment: 171.1 [7.2]; 3 weeks after the end of treatment: 173.5 [6.9]; P > .05) and Barthel Index scores (mean [SE], baseline: 71.1 [4.92]; 3 weeks after treatment: 88.8 [2.1]; 3 weeks after the end of treatment: 92.2 [2.4]; P > .05). Patients treated with CRB-iTBS, but not sham iTBS, showed a reduction of step width at the gait analysis (mean [SE], baseline: 16.8 [4.8] cm; 3 weeks after treatment: 14.3 [6.2] cm; P < .05) and an increase of neural activity over the posterior parietal cortex.
Conclusions and relevance: Cerebellar intermittent θ-burst stimulation promotes gait and balance recovery in patients with stroke by acting on cerebello-cortical plasticity. These results are important to increase the level of independent walking and reduce the risk of falling.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT03456362.