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Cerebello-spinal tDCS in ataxia: A randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled, crossover trial

Objective

To investigate whether a 2-week treatment with cerebellar anodal and spinal cathodal transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) could reduce symptoms in patients with neurodegenerative ataxia and could modulate cerebello-motor connectivity at the short and long terms.

Methods

We performed a double-blind, randomized, sham-controlled, crossover trial with cerebello-spinal tDCS (5 d/wk for 2 weeks) in 20 patients with neurodegenerative ataxia. Each patient underwent a clinical evaluation before and after real tDCS or sham stimulation. A follow-up evaluation was performed at 1 and 3 months with a crossover washout period of 3 months. Cerebello-motor connectivity was evaluated with transcranial magnetic stimulation at baseline and at each follow-up.

Results

Cerebello-spinal tDCS showed a significant improvement in all performance scores (Scale for the Assessment and Rating of Ataxia, International Cooperative Ataxia Rating Scale, 9-Hole Peg Test, 8-m walking time), in motor cortex excitability, and in cerebellar brain inhibition compared to sham stimulation.

Conclusions

A 2-week treatment with cerebello-spinal tDCS reduces symptoms in patients with ataxia and restores motor cortex inhibition exerted by cerebellar structures. Cerebello-spinal tDCS might represent a promising future therapeutic and rehabilitative approach in patients with neurodegenerative ataxia, still an orphan disorder of any pharmacologic intervention.

Clinical trial registration

NCT03120013.

Classification of evidence

This study provides Class II evidence that cerebello-spinal stimulation is effective and safe in cerebellar ataxia.

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