Theta burst stimulation for enhancing upper extremity motor functions after stroke: a systematic review of clinical and mechanistic evidence

Jiaqi Zhang (Corresponding Author), Youxin Sui, Alexander T. Sack, Zhongfei Bai, Wai Hang Kwong, Dalinda Isabel Sanchez Vidana, Xiong Li, Kenneth N. K. Fong

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review


This systematic review aimed to evaluate the effects of different theta burst stimulation (TBS) protocols on improving upper extremity motor functions in patients with stroke, their associated modulators of efficacy, and the underlying neural mechanisms. We conducted a meta-analytic review of 29 controlled trials published from January 1, 2000, to August 29, 2023, which investigated the effects of TBS on upper extremity motor, neurophysiological, and neuroimaging outcomes in poststroke patients. TBS significantly improved upper extremity motor impairment (Hedge’s g = 0.646, p = 0.003) and functional activity (Hedge’s g = 0.500, p < 0.001) compared to controls. Meta-regression revealed a significant relationship between the percentage of patients with subcortical stroke and the effect sizes of motor impairment (p = 0.015) and functional activity (p = 0.018). Subgroup analysis revealed a significant difference in the improvement of upper extremity motor impairment between studies using 600-pulse and 1200-pulse TBS (p = 0.002). Neurophysiological studies have consistently found that intermittent TBS increases ipsilesional corticomotor excitability. However, evidence to support the regional effects of continuous TBS, as well as the remote and network effects of TBS, is still mixed and relatively insufficient. In conclusion, TBS is effective in enhancing poststroke upper extremity motor function. Patients with preserved cortices may respond better to TBS. Novel TBS protocols with a higher dose may lead to superior efficacy compared with the conventional 600-pulse protocol. The mechanisms of poststroke recovery facilitated by TBS can be primarily attributed to the modulation of corticomotor excitability and is possibly caused by the recruitment of corticomotor networks connected to the ipsilesional motor cortex.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1
Number of pages17
JournalReviews in the Neurosciences
Publication statusPublished - 29 Apr 2024


  • cortical excitability
  • neuroplasticity
  • stroke
  • theta burst stimulation
  • upper extremity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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