Modulation of Training by Single-Session Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation to the Intact Motor Cortex Enhances Motor Skill Acquisition of the Paretic Hand
Background and Purpose—Mechanisms of skill learning are paramount components for stroke recovery. Recent noninvasive brain stimulation studies demonstrated that decreasing activity in the contralesional motor cortex might be beneficial, providing transient functional improvements after stroke. The more crucial question, however, is whether this intervention can also enhance the acquisition of complex motor tasks, yielding longer-lasting functional improvements. In the present study, we tested the capacity of cathodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) applied over the contralesional motor cortex during training to enhance the acquisition and retention of complex sequential finger movements of the paretic hand.
Method—Twelve well-recovered chronic patients with subcortical stroke attended 2 training sessions during which either cathodal tDCS or a sham intervention were applied to the contralesional motor cortex in a double-blind, crossover design. Two different motor sequences, matched for their degree of complexity, were tested in a counterbalanced order during as well as 90 minutes and 24 hours after the intervention. Potential underlying mechanisms were evaluated with transcranial magnetic stimulation.
Results—tDCS facilitated the acquisition of a new motor skill compared with sham stimulation (P=0.04) yielding better task retention results. A significant correlation was observed between the tDCS-induced improvement during training and the tDCS-induced changes of intracortical inhibition (R2=0.63).
Conclusions—These results indicate that tDCS is a promising tool to improve not only motor behavior, but also procedural learning. They further underline the potential of noninvasive brain stimulation as an adjuvant treatment for long-term recovery, at least in patients with mild functional impairment after stroke.
- Received November 30, 2011.
- Revision received March 5, 2012.
- Accepted March 28, 2012.
- © 2012 American Heart Association, Inc.