Noninvasive Brain Stimulation to Enhance Functional Recovery After Stroke: Studies in Animal Models

Julia Boonzaier, Geralda A.F. van Tilborg, Sebastiaan F.W. Neggers, Rick M. Dijkhuizen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background. Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability, but treatment options remain limited, leaving most patients with incomplete recovery. Patient and animal studies have shown potential of noninvasive brain stimulation (NIBS) strategies to improve function after stroke. However, mechanisms underlying therapeutic effects of NIBS are unclear and there is no consensus on which NIBS protocols are most effective. Objective. Provide a review of articles that assessed effects and mechanisms of repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) and transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in animal stroke models. Methods. Articles were searched in PubMed, including cross-references. Results. Nineteen eligible studies reporting effects of rTMS or tDCS after stroke in small rodents were identified. Seventeen of those described improved functional recovery or neuroprotection compared with untreated control or sham-stimulated groups. The effects of rTMS could be related to molecular mechanisms associated with ischemic tolerance, neuroprotection, anti-apoptosis, neurogenesis, angiogenesis, or neuroplasticity. Favorable outcome appeared most effectively when using high-frequency (>5 Hz) rTMS or intermittent theta burst stimulation of the ipsilesional hemisphere. tDCS effects were strongly dependent on stimulation polarity and onset time. Although these findings are promising, most studies did not meet Good Laboratory Practice assessment criteria. Conclusions. Despite limited data availability, animal stroke model studies demonstrate potential of NIBS to promote stroke recovery through different working mechanisms. Future studies in animal stroke models should adhere to Good Laboratory Practice guidelines and aim to further develop clinically applicable treatment protocols by identifying most favorable stimulation parameters, treatment onset, adjuvant therapies, and underlying modes of action.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)927-940
Number of pages14
JournalNeurorehabilitation and Neural Repair
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2018


  • animal
  • cerebrovascular stroke
  • models
  • transcranial direct current stimulation
  • transcranial magnetic stimulation
  • Stroke Rehabilitation/methods
  • Recovery of Function/physiology
  • Stroke/physiopathology
  • Brain/physiopathology
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation
  • Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Neuronal Plasticity/physiology
  • Disease Models, Animal


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