Effects of robot-assisted upper limb training combined with intermittent theta burst stimulation (iTBS) on cortical activation in stroke patients: A functional near-infrared spectroscopy study

NeuroRehabilitation. 2024;54(3):421-434. doi: 10.3233/NRE-230355.


Background: The therapeutic effect and mechanism of robot-assisted upper limb training (RT) combined with intermittent theta burst stimulation (iTBS) for stroke patients are unclear.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to evaluate changes in brain activation after combination therapy and RT alone using functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS).

Methods: Patients were randomly assigned to two groups (iTBS + RT Group, n = 18, and RT Group, n = 18). Training was conducted five times a week for four weeks. fNIRS was used to measure changes in oxyhemoglobin in both the primary motor cortex (M1) and pre-motor and supplementary motor area (pSMA) during affected limb movement. Fugl-Meyer Assessment-Upper Extremity (FMA-UE) was employed for evaluating the function of upper limbs.

Results: Thirty-two patients with subacute stroke completed the study. The cortex of both hemispheres was extensively activated prior to treatment in the RT group. After training, overactivation decreased. The brain activation of the combined treatment group transferred to the affected side after the treatment. There was a notable enhancement in the FMA-UE scores for both groups, with the combined group's progress significantly surpassing that of the RT group.

Conclusion: RT combined with iTBS can improve the motor function of stroke patients and promote the balance between cerebral hemispheres.

Keywords: Stroke; near-infrared spectroscopy; rehabilitation; robotics; transcranial magnetic stimulation; upper extremity.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Cortex* / physiopathology
  • Robotics*
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared* / methods
  • Stroke Rehabilitation* / methods
  • Stroke* / physiopathology
  • Stroke* / therapy
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation* / methods
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Upper Extremity* / physiopathology