[ARTICLE] Does non-invasive brain stimulation modify hand dexterity? Protocol for a systematic review and meta-analysis – Full Text



Introduction Dexterity is described as coordinated hand and finger movement for precision tasks. It is essential for day-to-day activities like computer use, writing or buttoning a shirt. Integrity of brain motor networks is crucial to properly execute these fine hand tasks. When these networks are damaged, interventions to enhance recovery are frequently accompanied by unwanted side effects or limited in their effect. Non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) are postulated to target affected motor areas and improve hand motor function with few side effects. However, the results across studies vary, and the current literature does not allow us to draw clear conclusions on the use of NIBS to promote hand function recovery. Therefore, we developed a protocol for a systematic review and meta-analysis on the effects of different NIBS technologies on dexterity in diverse populations. This study will potentially help future evidence-based research and guidelines that use these NIBS technologies for recovering hand dexterity.

Methods and analysis This protocol will compare the effects of active versus sham NIBS on precise hand activity. Records will be obtained by searching relevant databases. Included articles will be randomised clinical trials in adults, testing the therapeutic effects of NIBS on continuous dexterity data. Records will be studied for risk of bias. Narrative and quantitative synthesis will be done.

Strengths and limitations of this study

  • This is a novel systematic review and meta-analysis focusing specifically on dexterity.

  • We use continuous data not dependent on the evaluator or participant.

  • This work will potentially help future evidence-based research and guidelines to refine non-invasive brain stimulation.


The hand’s somatotopy is extensively represented in the human motor cortex.1 2 Phylogenetically, this relates to the development of corticomotoneuronal cells that specialise in creating patterns of muscle activity that synergises into highly skilled movements.3 This organised hand-and-finger movement to use objects during a specific task is known as dexterity.4 Evolutionary, dexterity played a pivotal role in human survival and is fundamental to actives of daily living, and hence quality of life.5 6

This precision motor movement relies on integration of information from the cerebral cortex, the spinal cord, several neuromusculoskeletal systems and the external world to coordinate finger force control, finger independence, timing and sequence performance.7 During these tasks, multivoxel pattern decoding shows bilateral primary motor cortex activation (M1), which was responsible for muscle recruitment timing and hand movement coordination.8 9 This is related to motor cortex connectivity through the corpus callosum, to motor regions of the cerebellum and white matter integrity.10–15 Adequate motor output translates into successfully executed tasks, like picking up objects, turning over cards, manipulating cutlery, writing, using computer–hand interfaces like smartphones, playing an instrument and performing many other similarly precise skills.16

These motor tasks are negatively impacted when motor output networks are affected, as seen in stroke or Parkinson’s disease.17 18 Therapeutic interventions that restore these damaged motor networks can be vital to restore fine motor movement after injury occurs. Pharmaceutical approaches often lead to adverse effects such as dyskinesias in Parkinson’s disease. Moreover, even after intensive rehabilitation programmes, only about 5%–20% of patients with stroke fully recover their motor function.19–21 Non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) techniques, like transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), are proposed adjuvant or stand-alone interventions to target these affected areas and improve fine motor function.22 23 Briefly, these NIBS interventions are shown to influence the nervous system’s excitability and modulate long-term plasticity, which may be beneficial to the brain’s recovery of functions after injury.24–27

Fine hand motor ability is not studied as much in previous reviews of NIBS. Specifically, one narrative review focuses on rTMS in affected hand recovery poststroke; however, it does not consider the implications of varying International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) domains, data types and rater dependent outcomes, and its interpretability is limited without quantitative synthesis.28–31 The overarching conclusion was supportive of rTMS for paretic hand recovery, though with limited data to support its regular use, and a pressing need to study individualised patient parameters.28 One meta-analysis had positive and significant results when specifically studying the effects of rTMS on finger coordination and hand function after stroke.32 However, while various meta-analysis, and another systematic review, studied upper-limb movement after NIBS in distinct populations, they did not focus on precise hand function, pooled upper-limb outcomes with hand outcomes and presented mixed results.33–38

Motivated by this gap in the evidence for NIBS in dexterity, we will do a systematic review and meta-analysis of the literature on these brain stimulation technologies using outcomes that focus exactly on manual dexterity. These outcomes will be continuous and not dependent on the participant’s or rater’s observation (ie, they will be measured in seconds, or number of blocks/pegs placed, and not by an individual’s interpretation). They will be comprised of multiple domains as defined by the ICF, providing an appreciation of function rather than only condition or disease.29–31 By focusing on the ICF model, we will be able to study dexterity across a larger sample of studies, NIBS techniques and conditions in order to provide a better understanding of brain stimulation efficacy on hand function in various populations.[…]

Continue —. Does non-invasive brain stimulation modify hand dexterity? Protocol for a systematic review and meta-analysis | BMJ Open


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