After making paralyzed rats regain their grip, Swiss scientists have discovered that motor skill rehabilitation might be a question of drug-therapy sequence for stroke victims.

For rats in the laboratory who had undergone a large stroke, being given nerve fiber stimulating drugs before starting physical therapy was the right order of things.

"This new rehabilitative approach at least triggered an astonishing recovery of the motor skills in rats, which may become important for the treatment of stroke patients in the future," says first author Anna-Sophia Wahl.

It's not uncommon for victims of severe strokes to lose their motor skills permanently and despite rehabilitation efforts.

Results concluded that timing is critical, and that antibody drugs must be administered early to block the arrival of proteins that inhibit nerve growth in stroke victims.

Rats that started physical training after nerve growth-stimulating antibody drug treatment regained a surprising 85 per cent of their motor skills whereas rats that started drug therapy and physical training concurrently regained just 15 per cent.

"Our study reveals how important a meticulous therapeutic design is for the most successful rehabilitation possible," sums up study head Martin Schwab. "The brain has enormous potential for the reorganization and reestablishment of its functions. With the right therapies at the right time, this can be increased in a targeted fashion.

Anatomical scans showed that nerve fiber growth patterns in the spinal cord depended on treatment sequence, indicating that consecutive drug-training therapies are essential for stabilizing and redirecting the neural circuits.

The study was published in the journal Science.