September 2016: Volz LJ, Rehme AK, Michely J, Nettekoven C, Eickhoff SB, Fink GR and Grefkes C. (2016) Shaping early reorganization of neural networks promotes motor function after stroke. Cerebral Cortex, 26(6), 2882-2894 10.1093/cercor/bhw034
Abstract: Neural plasticity is a major factor driving cortical reorganization after stroke. We here tested whether repetitively enhancing motor cortex plasticity by means of intermittent theta-burst stimulation (iTBS) prior to physiotherapy might promote recovery of function early after stroke. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to elucidate underlying neural mechanisms. Twenty-six hospitalized, first-ever stroke patients (time since stroke: 1–16 days) with hand motor deficits were enrolled in a sham-controlled design and pseudo-randomized into 2 groups. iTBS was administered prior to physiotherapy on 5 consecutive days either over ipsilesional primary motor cortex (M1-stimulation group) or parieto-occipital vertex (control-stimulation group). Hand motor function, cortical excitability, and resting-state fMRI were assessed 1 day prior to the first stimulation and 1 day after the last stimulation. Recovery of grip strength was significantly stronger in the M1-stimulation compared to the control-stimulation group. Higher levels of motor network connectivity were associated with better motor outcome. Consistently, control-stimulated patients featured a decrease in intra- and interhemispheric connectivity of the motor network, which was absent in the M1-stimulation group. Hence, adding iTBS to prime physiotherapy in recovering stroke patients seems to interfere with motor network degradation, possibly reflecting alleviation of post-stroke diaschisis.