Cortical priming strategies for gait training after stroke: A controlled, stratified trial

Sangeetha Madhavan, Brice T. Cleland, Anjali Sivaramakrishnan, Sally Freels, Hyosok Lim, Fernando D. Testai, Daniel M. Corcos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Background: Stroke survivors experience chronic gait impairments, so rehabilitation has focused on restoring ambulatory capacity. High-intensity speed-based treadmill training (HISTT) is one form of walking rehabilitation that can improve walking, but its effectiveness has not been thoroughly investigated. Additionally, cortical priming with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and movement may enhance HISTT-induced improvements in walking, but there have been no systematic investigations. The objective of this study was to determine if motor priming can augment the effects of HISTT on walking in chronic stroke survivors. Methods: Eighty-one chronic stroke survivors participated in a controlled trial with stratification into four groups: 1) control-15 min of rest (n = 20), 2) tDCS-15 min of stimulation-based priming with transcranial direct current stimulation (n = 21), 3) ankle motor tracking (AMT)-15 min of movement-based priming with targeted movements of the ankle and sham tDCS (n = 20), and 4) tDCS+AMT-15 min of concurrent tDCS and AMT (n = 20). Participants performed 12 sessions of HISTT (40 min/day, 3 days/week, 4 weeks). Primary outcome measure was walking speed. Secondary outcome measures included corticomotor excitability (CME). Outcomes were measured at pre, post, and 3-month follow-up assessments. Results: HISTT improved walking speed for all groups, which was partially maintained 3 months after training. No significant difference in walking speed was seen between groups. The tDCS+AMT group demonstrated greater changes in CME than other groups. Individuals who demonstrated up-regulation of CME after tDCS increased walking speed more than down-regulators. Conclusions: Our results support the effectiveness of HISTT to improve walking; however, motor priming did not lead to additional improvements. Upregulation of CME in the tDCS+AMT group supports a potential role for priming in enhancing neural plasticity. Greater changes in walking were seen in tDCS up-regulators, suggesting that responsiveness to tDCS might play an important role in determining the capacity to respond to priming and HISTT.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number111
JournalJournal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Aug 17 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • High intensity
  • Locomotion
  • Motor priming
  • TMS
  • Treadmill training
  • tDCS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Rehabilitation


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