The impact of large structural brain changes in chronic stroke patients on the electric field caused by transcranial brain stimulation.
Minjoli S., Saturnino GB., Blicher JU., Stagg CJ., Siebner HR., Antunes A., Thielscher A.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (TDCS) are two types of non-invasive transcranial brain stimulation (TBS). They are useful tools for stroke research and may be potential adjunct therapies for functional recovery. However, stroke often causes large cerebral lesions, which are commonly accompanied by a secondary enlargement of the ventricles and atrophy. These structural alterations substantially change the conductivity distribution inside the head, which may have potentially important consequences for both brain stimulation methods. We therefore aimed to characterize the impact of these changes on the spatial distribution of the electric field generated by both TBS methods. In addition to confirming the safety of TBS in the presence of large stroke-related structural changes, our aim was to clarify whether targeted stimulation is still possible. Realistic head models containing large cortical and subcortical stroke lesions in the right parietal cortex were created using MR images of two patients. For TMS, the electric field of a double coil was simulated using the finite-element method. Systematic variations of the coil position relative to the lesion were tested. For TDCS, the finite-element method was used to simulate a standard approach with two electrode pads, and the position of one electrode was systematically varied. For both TMS and TDCS, the lesion caused electric field "hot spots" in the cortex. However, these maxima were not substantially stronger than those seen in a healthy control. The electric field pattern induced by TMS was not substantially changed by the lesions. However, the average field strength generated by TDCS was substantially decreased. This effect occurred for both head models and even when both electrodes were distant to the lesion, caused by increased current shunting through the lesion and enlarged ventricles. Judging from the similar peak field strengths compared to the healthy control, both TBS methods are safe in patients with large brain lesions (in practice, however, additional factors such as potentially lowered thresholds for seizure-induction have to be considered). Focused stimulation by TMS seems to be possible, but standard tDCS protocols appear to be less efficient than they are in healthy subjects, strongly suggesting that tDCS studies in this population might benefit from individualized treatment planning based on realistic field calculations.