Safety and efficacy of transcranial direct current stimulation in acute experimental ischemic stroke.


BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Transcranial direct current stimulation is emerging as a promising tool for the treatment of several neurological conditions, including cerebral ischemia. The therapeutic role of this noninvasive treatment is, however, limited to chronic phases of stroke. We thus ought to investigate whether different stimulation protocols could also be beneficial in the acute phase of experimental brain ischemia. METHODS: The influence of both cathodal and anodal transcranial direct current stimulation in modifying brain metabolism of healthy mice was first tested by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Then, mice undergoing transient proximal middle cerebral artery occlusion were randomized and treated acutely with anodal, cathodal, or sham transcranial direct current stimulation. Brain metabolism, functional outcomes, and ischemic lesion volume, as well as the inflammatory reaction and blood brain barrier functionality, were analyzed. RESULTS: Cathodal stimulation was able, if applied in the acute phase of stroke, to preserve cortical neurons from the ischemic damage, to reduce inflammation, and to promote a better clinical recovery compared with sham and anodal treatments. This finding was attributable to the significant decrease of cortical glutamate, as indicated by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Conversely, anodal stimulation induced an increase in the postischemic lesion volume and augmented blood brain barrier derangement. CONCLUSIONS: Our data indicate that transcranial direct current stimulation exerts a measurable neuroprotective effect in the acute phase of stroke. However, its timing and polarity should be carefully identified on the base of the pathophysiological context to avoid potential harmful side effects.