Background: Preceding low-frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) with a bout of high-frequency rTMS called priming potentiates the after-effects of the former in healthy adults. The utility of primed rTMS in stroke remains under-explored despite its theoretical benefits in enhancing cortical excitability and motor function.
Objective: To ascertain the efficacy of priming in chronic stroke by comparing changes in cortical excitability and paretic hand function following three types of primed low-frequency rTMS treatments.
Methods: Eleven individuals with chronic stroke participated in this repeated-measures study receiving three treatments to the contralesional primary motor cortex in randomized order: 6 Hz primed 1 Hz rTMS, 1 Hz primed 1 Hz rTMS, and sham 6 Hz primed active 1 Hz rTMS. Within- and between-treatment differences from baseline in cortical excitability and paretic hand function from baseline were analyzed using mixed effects linear models.
Results: 6 Hz primed 1 Hz rTMS produced significant within-treatment differences from baseline in ipsilesional cortical silent period (CSP) duration and short-interval intracortical inhibition. Compared to 1 Hz priming and sham 6 Hz priming of 1 Hz rTMS, active 6 Hz priming generated significantly greater decreases in ipsilesional CSP duration. These heightened effects were not observed for intracortical facilitation or interhemispheric inhibition excitability measures.
Conclusion: Our findings demonstrate the efficacy of 6 Hz primed 1 Hz rTMS in probing homeostatic plasticity mechanisms in the stroke brain as best demonstrated by differences CSP duration and SICI from baseline. Though 6 Hz priming did not universally enhance cortical excitability across measures, our findings pose important implications in non-invasive brain stimulation application in stroke rehabilitation.