Ischemic stroke is a leading cause of disability worldwide, with profound economic costs. Poststroke motor impairment is the most commonly encountered deficit resulting in significant disability and is the primary driver of stroke-associated healthcare expenditures. Although many patients derive some degree of benefit from physical rehabilitation, a significant proportion continue to suffer from persistent motor impairment. Noninvasive brain stimulation, vagal nerve stimulation, epidural cortical stimulation, and deep brain stimulation (DBS) have all been studied as potential modalities to improve upon the benefits derived from physical therapy alone. These neuromodulatory therapies aim primarily to augment neuroplasticity and drive functional reorganization of the surviving perilesional cortex.
The authors have proposed a novel and emerging therapeutic approach based on cerebellar DBS targeted at the dentate nucleus. Their rationale is based on the extensive reciprocal connectivity between the dentate nucleus and wide swaths of cerebral cortex via the dentatothalamocortical and corticopontocerebellar tracts, as well as the known limitations to motor rehabilitation imposed by crossed cerebellar diaschisis. Preclinical studies in rodent models of ischemic stroke have shown that cerebellar DBS promotes functional recovery in a frequency-dependent manner, with the most substantial benefits of the therapy noted at 30-Hz stimulation. The improvements in motor function are paralleled by increased expression of markers of synaptic plasticity, synaptogenesis, and neurogenesis in the perilesional cortex. Given the findings of preclinical studies, a first-in-human trial, Electrical Stimulation of the Dentate Nucleus Area (EDEN) for Improvement of Upper Extremity Hemiparesis Due to Ischemic Stroke: A Safety and Feasibility Study, commenced in 2016. Although the existing preclinical evidence is promising, the results of this Phase I trial and subsequent clinical trials will be necessary to determine the future applicability of this therapy.