Background: Repetitive peripheral nerve sensory stimulation (RPSS) is a potential add-on intervention to motor training for rehabilitation of upper limb paresis after stroke. Benefits of RPSS were reported in subjects in the chronic phase after stroke, but there is limited information about the effects of this intervention within the 1st weeks or months. The primary goal of this study is to compare, in a head-to-head proof-of-principle study, the impact of a single session of suprasensory vs. subsensory RPSS on the upper limb motor performance and learning in subjects at different phases after stroke subacute and chronic phases and mild upper limb motor impairments after stroke. In addition, we examine the effects of RPSS on brain perfusion, functional imaging activation, and γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels. Subjects with mild upper limb motor impairments will be tested with MRI and clinical assessment either at an early (7 days to 3 months post-stroke) or at a chronic (>6 months) stage after stroke.
Methods: In this multicenter, randomized, parallel-group, proof-of-principle clinical trial with blinded assessment of outcomes, we compare the effects of one session of suprasensory or subsensory RPSS in patients with ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke and upper limb paresis. Clinical assessment and MRI will be performed only once in each subject (either at an early or at a chronic stage). The primary outcome is the change in performance in the Jebsen-Taylor test. Secondary outcomes: hand strength, cerebral blood flow assessed with arterial spin labeling, changes in the blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) effect in ipsilesional and contralesional primary motor cortex (M1) on the left and the right hemispheres assessed with functional MRI (fMRI) during a finger-tapping task performed with the paretic hand, and changes in GABA levels in ipsilesional and contralesional M1 evaluated with spectroscopy. The changes in outcomes will be compared in four groups: suprasensory, early; subsensory, early; suprasensory, chronic; and subsensory, chronic.
Discussion: The results of this study are relevant to inform future clinical trials to tailor RPSS to patients more likely to benefit from this intervention.
Trial registration: NCT03956407.
Keywords: nerve stimulation; rehabilitation; sensory stimulation; stroke; upper limb.
Copyright © 2022 Kroth, Handfas, Rodrigues, Zepeda, Oliveira, Wang, Azevedo Neto, Silva, Amaro, Sorinola and Conforto.