Therapy that combines repetitive training with non-invasive brain stimulation is a potential avenue to enhance upper limb recovery after stroke. This study aimed to investigate the feasibility of transcranial Random Noise Stimulation (tRNS), timed to coincide with the generation of voluntary motor commands, during reaching training.
A triple-blind pilot RCT was completed. Four stroke survivors with chronic (6-months to 5-years) and severe arm paresis, not taking any medications that had the potential to alter cortical excitability, and no contraindications to tRNS or MRI were recruited. Participants were randomly allocated to 12 sessions of reaching training over 4-weeks with active or sham tRNS delivered over the lesioned hemisphere motor representation. tRNS was triggered to coincide with a voluntary movement attempt, ceasing after 5-s. At this point, peripheral nerve stimulation enabled full range reaching. To determine feasibility, we considered adverse events, training outcomes, clinical outcomes, corticospinal tract (CST) structural integrity, and reflections on training through in-depth interviews from each individual case.
Two participants received active and two sham tRNS. There were no adverse events. All training sessions were completed, repetitive practice performed and clinically relevant improvements across motor outcomes demonstrated. The amount of improvement varied across individuals and appeared to be independent of group allocation and CST integrity.
Reaching training that includes tRNS timed to coincide with generation of voluntary motor commands is feasible. Clinical improvements were possible even in the most severely affected individuals as evidenced by CST integrity.
This study was registered on the Australian and New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ANZCTR) http://www.ANZCTR.org.au/ACTRN12614000952640.aspx. Registration date 4 September 2014, first participant date 9 September 2014.