Can Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation Enhance Poststroke Motor Recovery?: Development of a Theoretical Patient-Tailored Model

New treatments that can facilitate neural repair and reduce persistent impairments have significant value in promoting recovery following stroke. One technique that has gained interest is transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) as early research suggested it could enhance plasticity and enable greater behavioral recovery. However, several studies have now identified substantial intersubject variability in response to tDCS and clinical trials revealed insufficient evidence of treatment effectiveness. A possible explanation for the varied and negative findings is that the physiologic model of stroke recovery that researchers have used to guide the application of tDCS-based treatments in stroke is overly simplistic and does not account for stroke heterogeneity or known determinants that affect the tDCS response. Here, we propose that tDCS could have a more clearly beneficial role in enhancing stroke recovery if greater consideration is given to individualizing treatment. By critically reviewing the proposed mechanisms of tDCS, stroke physiology across the recovery continuum, and known determinants of tDCS response, we propose a new, theoretical, patient-tailored approach to delivering tDCS after stroke. The proposed model includes a step-by-step principled selection strategy for identifying optimal neuromodulation targets and outlines key areas for further investigation. Tailoring tDCS treatment to individual neuroanatomy and physiology is likely our best chance at producing robust and meaningful clinical benefit for people with stroke and would therefore accelerate opportunities for clinical translation.

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