PMU-Autor/inn/enButz Kevin Holger Gerd
Synchronous visuotactile stimulation on the own hidden hand and a visible fake limb can alter bodily self-perception and influence spontaneous neuroplasticity. The rubber hand illusion (RHI) paradigm experimentally produces an illusion of rubber hand ownership and arm shift by simultaneously stroking a rubber hand in view and a participantxxxs visually occluded hand. The aim of this cross-over, placebo-controlled, single-blind study was to assess whether RHI, in combination with high-frequency repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) given as intermittent (excitatory) theta burst stimulation (iTBS) applied over the hand area of the primary sensory region (S1) can enhance tactile sensation in a group of 21 healthy subjects and one patient with cervical spinal cord injury. Four sessions covered all combinations of real and sham stimulations of the RHI and the TBS: real TBS and real RHI, real TBS and sham RHI, sham TBS and real RHI, and both conditions sham. The condition sham TBS and real RHI shows the greatest effect on the proprioceptive drift (median 2.3 cm, IQR 2) and on the score of RHI questionnaires (median 3, IQR 2) in the control group as well as in the real-real condition (median 2, IQR 2). The sham TBS and real RHI condition also shows the best results in the electrical perception test of the patient (median 1.9 mA). Conversely, the upregulation of the cortical excitability of S1 via TBS seems to impair the effect of the RHI. This might be due to a strengthening of the top-down connection between the central nervous system and the periphery, diminishing the RHI. This finding helps in understanding the mechanisms of top-down and bottom-up mechanisms in healthy subjects and patients with spinal cord injury. The RHI paradigm could represent an interesting therapeutic approach in improving tactile sensation and rTMS techniques could modulate these effects. Yet, further studies are needed, to examine the direction of the interaction effect of TMS and RH.