Spasmodic dysphonia (SD) is an incurable focal dystonia of the larynx that impairs speech and communication. Vibro-tactile stimulation (VTS) alters afferent proprioceptive input to sensorimotor cortex that controls speech. This proof-of-concept study examined the effect of laryngeal VTS on speech quality and cortical activity in 13 SD participants who vocalized the vowel /a/ while receiving VTS for 29 minutes. In response to VTS, 9 participants (69%) exhibited a reduction of voice breaks and/or a meaningful increase in smoothed cepstral peak prominence, an acoustic measure of voice/speech quality. Symptom improvements persisted for 20 minutes past VTS. Application of VTS induced a significant suppression of theta band power over the left somatosensory-motor cortex and a significant rise of gamma rhythm over right somatosensory-motor cortex. Such suppression of theta oscillations is observed in patients with cervical dystonia who apply effective sensory tricks, suggesting that VTS in SD may activate a similar neurophysiological mechanism. Results of this feasibility study indicate that laryngeal VTS modulates neuronal synchronization over sensorimotor cortex, which can induce short-term improvements in voice quality. The effects of long-term VTS and its optimal dosage for treating voice symptoms in SD are still unknown and require further systematic study.
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