Background: Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) and intermittent theta burst stimulation (iTBS) were both demonstrated to have therapeutic potentials to rapidly induce neuroplastic effects in various rehabilitation training regimens. Recently, we developed a novel transcranial electrostimulation device that can flexibly output an electrical current with combined tDCS and iTBS waveforms. However, limited studies have determined the therapeutic effects of this special waveform combination on clinical rehabilitation. Herein, we investigated brain stimulation effects of tDCS-iTBS on upper-limb motor function in chronic stroke patients. Methods: Twenty-four subjects with a chronic stroke were randomly assigned to a real non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS; who received the real tDCS + iTBS output) group or a sham NIBS (who received sham tDCS + iTBS output) group. All subjects underwent 18 treatment sessions of 1 h of a conventional rehabilitation program (3 days a week for 6 weeks), where a 20-min NIBS intervention was simultaneously applied during conventional rehabilitation. Outcome measures were assessed before and immediately after the intervention period: Fugl-Meyer Assessment-Upper Extremity (FMA-UE), Jebsen-Taylor Hand Function Test (JTT), and Finger-to-Nose Test (FNT). Results: Both groups showed improvements in FMA-UE, JTT, and FNT scores after the 6-week rehabilitation program. Notably, the real NIBS group had greater improvements in the JTT (p = 0. 016) and FNT (p = 0. 037) scores than the sham NIBS group, as determined by the Mann–Whitney rank-sum test. Conclusions: Patients who underwent the combined ipsilesional tDCS-iTBS stimulation with conventional rehabilitation exhibited greater impacts than did patients who underwent sham stimulation-conventional rehabilitation in statistically significant clinical responses of the total JTT time and FNT after the stroke. Preliminary results of upper-limb functional recovery suggest that tDCS-iTBS combined with a conventional rehabilitation intervention may be a promising strategy to enhance therapeutic benefits in future clinical settings. Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT04369235. Registered on 30 April 2020.
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