Evaluation of rTMS in patients with poststroke aphasia: a systematic review and focused meta-analysis

Neurol Sci. 2022 May 2. doi: 10.1007/s10072-022-06092-x. Online ahead of print.


Purpose: Aphasia-acquired loss of the ability to understand or express language-is a common and debilitating neurological consequence of stroke. Evidence suggests that transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) can significantly improve language outcomes in patients with aphasia. Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) has been reported to improve naming in chronic stroke patients with nonfluent aphasia since 2005.

Methods: We conducted a systematic review and meta-analyses of TMS treatment studies in patients with aphasia. Eight electronic databases (PubMed, Medline, Embase, Scopus, ScienceDirect, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Journals@Ovid, and clinicaltrials.gov) were searched for articles. Relevant studies were further evaluated, and studies that met inclusion criteria were reviewed. The searches were limited to human studies written in English and published between January 1960 and January 2020. In keeping with the main objective of this review, we included all studies that carried out treatment using rTMS in stroke patients with aphasia, regardless of the trial (or experimental) design of the study. Studies that implemented between-subject or randomized controlled (RCT) design, cross-over trials, and within-subject or pre-post trials were all included. Standard mean difference (SMD) for changes in picture naming accuracy was estimated.

Results: The literature search yielded 423 studies. Fifty articles were further evaluated to be included. Eleven met all inclusion criteria and were chosen for review. Eleven eligible studies involving 242 stroke patients were identified in this meta-analysis. Further analyses demonstrated prominent effects for the naming subtest (SMD = 1.26, 95% CI = 0.80 to 1.71, p = 0.01), with heterogeneity (I2 = 69.101%). The meta-analysis continued to show that there was a statistically significant effect of rTMS compared with sham rTMS on the severity of aphasia. None of the patients from the 11 included articles reported adverse effects from rTMS.

Conclusions: There are some strong studies evaluating the efficacy of rTMS in stroke patients but further research is required to fully establish the usefulness of this treatment. This meta-analysis indicates a clinically positive effect of rTMS with or without speech and language therapy (SLT) for patients with aphasia following stroke in overall language function and expressive language, including naming, repetition, writing, and comprehension. Low-frequency (1 Hz) rTMS over the unaffected hemisphere is effective and compatible with the concept of interhemispheric inhibition. Moreover, the treatment of 1 Hz rTMS for patients with aphasia after stroke was safe.

Keywords: Aphasia; Language recovery; Meta-analysis; Neurorehabilitation; Stroke; rTMS.

Publication types

  • Review