Epidural cortical stimulation and aphasia therapy

Leora R. Cherney, Richard L. Harvey, Edna M. Babbitt, Rosalind Hurwitz, Rosalind C. Kaye, Jaime B. Lee, Steven L. Small

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Background: There are several methods of delivering cortical brain stimulation to modulate cortical excitability, and interest in their application as an adjuvant strategy in aphasia rehabilitation after stroke is growing. Epidural cortical stimulation, although more invasive than other methods, permits high-frequency stimulation of high spatial specificity to targeted neuronal populations.Aims: First we review evidence supporting the use of epidural cortical stimulation for upper limb recovery after focal cortical injury in both animal models and human stroke survivors. These data provide the empirical and theoretical platform underlying the use of epidural cortical stimulation in aphasia. Second, we summarise evidence for the application of epidural cortical stimulation in aphasia. We describe the procedures and primary outcomes of a safety and feasibility study (Cherney, Erickson, & Small, 2010), and provide previously unpublished data regarding secondary behavioural outcomes from that study.Main Contribution: In a controlled study comparing epidural cortical stimulation plus language treatment (CS/LT) to language treatment alone (LT), eight stroke survivors with nonfluent aphasia received intensive language therapy for 6 weeks. Four of these participants also underwent surgical implantation of an epidural stimulation device, which was activated only during therapy sessions. Behavioural data were collected before treatment, immediately after treatment, and at 6 and 12 weeks following the end of treatment. The effect size for the primary outcome measure, the Western Aphasia Battery Aphasia Quotient, was benchmarked as moderate from baseline to immediately post-treatment, and large from baseline to the 12-week follow-up. Similarly, effect sizes obtained at the 12-week follow-up for the Boston Naming Test, the Communicative Effectiveness Index, and for correct information units on a picture description task were greater than those obtained immediately post treatment. When effect sizes were compared for individual participant pairs on discourse measures of content and rate, effects were typically larger for the investigational participants receiving CS/LT than for the control participants receiving LT alone. These analyses support previous findings regarding therapeutic efficacy of CS/LT compared to LT, i.e., epidural stimulation of ipsilesional premotor cortex may augment behavioural speech-language therapy, with the largest effects after completion of therapy.Conclusions: Continued investigation of epidural cortical stimulation in combination with language training in post-stroke aphasia should proceed cautiously. Carefully planned studies that customize procedures to individual profiles are warranted. Information from research on non-invasive methods of CS/LT may also inform future studies of epidural cortical stimulation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1192-1217
Number of pages26
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Aphasia
  • Cortical stimulation
  • Rehabilitation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • LPN and LVN


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