- The neurophysiological effects of stroke are localised to the affected motor cortex.
- There is no clear evidence of imbalanced interhemispheric inhibition after stroke.
- Facilitating the affected motor cortex may be most beneficial in selected patients.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is commonly used to measure the effects of stroke on corticomotor excitability, intracortical function, and interhemispheric interactions. The interhemispheric inhibition model posits that recovery of motor function after stroke is linked to rebalancing of asymmetric interhemispheric inhibition and corticomotor excitability. This model forms the rationale for using neuromodulation techniques to suppress unaffected motor cortex excitability, and facilitate affected motor cortex excitability. However, the evidence base for using neuromodulation techniques to promote post-stroke motor recovery is inconclusive.
The aim of this meta-analysis was to compare measures of corticomotor excitability, intracortical function, and interhemispheric inhibition, between the affected and unaffected hemispheres of people with stroke, and measures made in healthy adults.
A literature search was conducted to identify studies that made TMS measures of the motor cortex in adult stroke patients. Two authors independently extracted data, and the quality of included studies was assessed. TMS measures were compared between the affected and unaffected hemispheres of stroke patients, between the affected hemisphere and healthy controls, and between the unaffected hemisphere and healthy controls. Analyses were carried out with data grouped according to the muscle from which responses were recorded, and separately according to time post-stroke (<3 months, and ≥ 6 months). Meta-analyses were carried out using a random effects model.
There were 844 studies identified, and 112 studies included in the meta-analysis. Results were very similar across muscle groups. Affected hemisphere M1 excitability is lower than unaffected and healthy control M1 excitability after stroke. Affected hemisphere short interval intracortical inhibition (SICI) is lower than unaffected and healthy control SICI early after stroke, and not different in the chronic phase. There were no differences detected between the unaffected hemisphere and healthy controls. There were only seven studies of interhemispheric inhibition that could be included, with no clear effects of hemisphere or time post-stroke.
The neurophysiological effects of stroke are primarily localised to the affected hemisphere, and there is no clear evidence for hyper-excitability of the unaffected hemisphere or imbalanced interhemispheric inhibition. This indicates that facilitating affected M1 excitability directly may be more beneficial than suppressing unaffected M1 excitability for promoting post-stroke recovery.