Targeting unlesioned pharyngeal motor cortex improves swallowing in healthy individuals and after dysphagic stroke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

  • External authors:
  • Satish Mistry
  • Samantha Jefferson
  • Salil Singh
  • John Rothwell


Patients with stroke experience swallowing problems (dysphagia); increased risk of aspiration pneumonia, malnutrition, and dehydration; and have increased mortality. We investigated the behavioral and neurophysiological effects of a new neurostimulation technique (paired associative stimulation [PAS]), applied to the pharyngeal motor cortex, on swallowing function in healthy individuals and patients with dysphagia from stroke. We examined the optimal parameters of PAS to promote plasticity by combining peripheral pharyngeal (electrical) with cortical stimulation. A virtual lesion was used as an experimental model of stroke, created with 1-Hz repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation over the pharyngeal cortex in 12 healthy individuals. We tested whether hemispheric targeting of PAS altered swallowing performance before applying the technique to 6 patients with severe, chronic dysphagia from stroke (mean of 38.8 ± 24.4 weeks poststroke). Ten minutes of PAS to the unlesioned pharyngeal cortex reversed (bilaterally) the cortical suppression induced by virtual lesion (lesioned: F 1,9 = 21.347, P =.001; contralesional: F 1,9 = 9.648, P =.013; repeated-measures analysis of variance) compared with sham PAS. It promoted changes in behavior responses measured with a swallowing reaction time task (F 1,7 = 21.02, P =.003; repeated-measures analysis of variance). In patients with chronic dysphagia, real PAS induced short-term bilateral changes in the brain; the unaffected pharyngeal cortex had increased excitability (P =.001; 95% confidence interval, 0.210.05; post hoc paired t test) with reduced penetration-aspiration scores and changes in swallowing biomechanics determined by videofluoroscopy. The beneficial neurophysiological and behavioral properties of PAS, when applied to unlesioned brain, provide the foundation for further investigation into the use of neurostimulation as a rehabilitative approach for patients with dysphagia from stroke. © 2012 AGA Institute.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-38
Number of pages9
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012