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Excitatory repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation induces improvements in chronic post-stroke aphasia

Jerzy P. Szaflarski, Jennifer Vannest, Steve W. Wu, Mark W. DiFrancesco, Christi Banks, Donald L. Gilbert

Med Sci Monit 2011; 17(3): CR132-139

DOI: 10.12659/MSM.881446


Background:    Aphasia affects 1/3 of stroke patients with improvements noted only in some of them. The goal of this exploratory study was to provide preliminary evidence regarding safety and efficacy of fMRI-guided excitatory repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) applied to the residual left-hemispheric Broca’s area for chronic aphasia treatment.
    Material/Methods:    We enrolled 8 patients with moderate or severe aphasia >1 year after LMCA stroke. Linguistic battery was administered pre-/post-rTMS; a semantic decision/tone decision (SDTD) fMRI task was used to localize left-hemispheric Broca’s area. RTMS protocol consisted of 10 daily treatments of 200 seconds each using an excitatory stimulation protocol called intermittent theta burst stimulation (iTBS). Coil placement was targeted individually to the left Broca’s.
    Results:    6/8 patients showed significant pre-/post-rTMS improvements in semantic fluency (p=0.028); they were able to generate more appropriate words when prompted with a semantic category. Pre-/post-rTMS fMRI maps showed increases in left fronto-temporo-parietal language networks with a significant left-hemispheric shift in the left frontal (p=0.025), left temporo-parietal (p=0.038) regions and global language LI (p=0.018). Patients tended to report subjective improvement on Communicative Activities Log (mini-CAL; p=0.075). None of the subjects reported ill effects of rTMS.
    Conclusions:    FMRI-guided, excitatory rTMS applied to the affected Broca’s area improved language skills in patients with chronic post-stroke aphasia; these improvements correlated with increased language lateralization to the left hemisphere. This rTMS protocol appears to be safe and should be further tested in blinded studies assessing its short- and long-term safety/efficacy for post-stroke aphasia rehabilitation.

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