Supraspinal excitability and sensory input may play an important role for the modulation of spinal inhibitory interneurons and functional recovery among patients with incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI). Here, we investigated the effects of anodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) combined with patterned electrical stimulation (PES) on spinal inhibitory interneurons in patients with chronic incomplete SCI and in healthy individuals. Eleven patients with incomplete SCI and ten healthy adults participated in a single-masked, sham-controlled crossover study. PES involved stimulating the common peroneal nerve with a train of ten 100 Hz pulses every 2 s for 20 min. Anodal tDCS (1 mA) was simultaneously applied to the primary motor cortex that controls the tibialis anterior muscle. We measured reciprocal inhibition and presynaptic inhibition of a soleus H-reflex by stimulating the common peroneal nerve prior to tibial nerve stimulation, which elicits the H-reflex. The inhibition was assessed before, immediately after, 10 min after and 20 min after the stimulation. Compared with baseline, simultaneous application of anodal tDCS with PES significantly increased changes in disynaptic reciprocal inhibition and long-latency presynaptic inhibition in both healthy and SCI groups for at least 20 min after the stimulation (all, p < 0.001). In patients with incomplete SCI, anodal tDCS with PES significantly increased the number of ankle movements in 10 s at 20 min after the stimulation (p = 0.004). In conclusion, anodal tDCS combined with PES could induce spinal plasticity and improve ankle movement in patients with incomplete SCI.
ASJC Scopus subject areas