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01.12.2015 | Study protocol | Ausgabe 1/2015 Open Access

BMC Neurology 1/2015

An investigation of cortical neuroplasticity following stroke in adults: is there evidence for a critical window for rehabilitation?

BMC Neurology > Ausgabe 1/2015
Michelle N. McDonnell, Simon Koblar, Nick S. Ward, John C. Rothwell, Brenton Hordacre, Michael C. Ridding
Wichtige Hinweise

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

JCR and MCR conceived the study, SK, NW and MMcD and SK contributed to the study design and BH and MCR are primarily responsible for data collection. All authors, with the exception of BH, contributed to the funding application. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.



Evidence in animal stroke models suggests that neuroplasticity takes place maximally in a specific time window after an ischaemic lesion, which may coincide with the optimal time to intervene with rehabilitation. The aim of this study is to investigate neurophysiological evidence for a “critical window” of enhanced neuroplasticity in patients following ischaemic stroke, and establish its duration. We will also investigate changes in cortical inhibition following stroke, and the influence this has on functional recovery.


We will recruit participants recently admitted to the Stroke Unit of major metropolitan hospitals who have had a stroke and can provide informed consent. Participants will be excluded if they have any contraindications to Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. We will compare neurophysiological outcomes in an age-matched healthy control group. We conservatively hypothesise a 5 % increase in neuroplasticity at the optimal timing following stroke, compared to control participants, and require 43 patients following stroke to detect a significant difference with 80 % power. The primary outcome is the change in the motor evoked potential (MEP) amplitude in a hand muscle, after the administration of a plasticity-inducing paradigm to the affected hemisphere. Secondary outcomes include measures of cortical excitability, intracortical inhibition and arm function.


The data from this trial will clarify whether there is a critical window for neuroplastic change in the brain following stroke. If so, intensive rehabilitation during this period could be more effective, reducing long-term disability and the cost burden of stroke.
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