Several studies have identified transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) as a potential tool in the rehabilitation of cerebellar disease. Here, we tested whether tDCS could alleviate motor impairments of subjects with cerebellar degeneration. Three groups took part in this study: 20 individuals with cerebellar degeneration, 20 age-matched controls, and 30 young controls. A standard reaching task with force-field perturbations was used to compare motor adaptation among groups and to measure the effect of stimulation of the cerebellum or primary motor cortex (M1). Cerebellar subjects and age-matched controls were tested during each stimulation type (cerebellum, M1, and sham) with a break of 1 wk among each of the three sessions. Young controls were tested during one session under one of three stimulation types (anodal cerebellum, cathodal cerebellum, or sham). As expected, individuals with cerebellar degeneration had a reduced ability to adapt to motor perturbations. Importantly, cerebellar patients did not benefit from anodal stimulation of the cerebellum or M1. Furthermore, no stimulation effects could be detected in aging and young controls. The present null results cannot exclude more subtle tDCS effects in larger subject populations and between-subject designs. Moreover, it is still possible that tDCS affects motor adaptation in cerebellar subjects and control subjects under a different task or with alternative stimulation parameters. However, for tDCS to become a valuable tool in the neurorehabilitation of cerebellar disease, stimulation effects should be present in group sizes commonly used in this rare patient population and be more consistent and predictable across subjects and tasks. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) has been identified as a potential tool in the rehabilitation of cerebellar disease. We investigated whether tDCS of the cerebellum and primary motor cortex could alleviate motor impairments of subjects with cerebellar degeneration. The present study did not find stimulation effects of tDCS in young controls, aging controls, and individuals with cerebellar degeneration during reach adaptation. Our results require a re-evaluation of the clinical potential of tDCS in cerebellar patients.

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Journal of Neurophysiology
Erasmus University Rotterdam

Hulst, T., John, L. (Liane), Küper, M., van der Geest, J., Göricke, S.L. (Sophia L.), Donchin, O., & Timmann, D. (2017). Cerebellar patients do not benefit from cerebellar or M1 transcranial direct current stimulation during force-field reaching adaptation. Journal of Neurophysiology, 118(2), 732–748. doi:10.1152/jn.00808.2016