The effectiveness of Robot-Assisted Gait Training versus conventional therapy on mobility in severely disabled progressIve MultiplE sclerosis patients (RAGTIME): Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial


Background: Gait and mobility impairments affect the quality of life (QoL) of patients with progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). Robot-assisted gait training (RAGT) is an effective rehabilitative treatment but evidence of its superiority compared to other options is lacking. Furthermore, the response to rehabilitation is multidimensional, person-specific and possibly involves functional reorganization processes. The aims of this study are: (1) to test the effectiveness on gait speed, mobility, balance, fatigue and QoL of RAGT compared to conventional therapy (CT) in progressive MS and (2) to explore changes of clinical and circulating biomarkers of neural plasticity. Methods: This will be a parallel-group, randomized controlled trial design with the assessor blinded to the group allocation of participants. Ninety-eight (49 per arm) progressive MS patients (EDSS scale 6-7) will be randomly assigned to receive twelve 2-h training sessions over a 4-week period (three sessions/week) of either: (1) RAGT intervention on a robotic-driven gait orthosis (Lokomat, Hocoma, Switzerland). The training parameters (torque of the knee and hip drives, treadmill speed, body weight support) are set during the first session and progressively adjusted during training progression or (2) individual conventional physiotherapy focusing on over-ground walking training performed with the habitual walking device. The same assessors will perform outcome measurements at four time points: baseline (before the first intervention session); intermediate (after six training sessions); end of treatment (after the completion of 12 sessions); and follow-up (after 3 months from the end of the training program). The primary outcome is gait speed, assessed by the Timed 25-Foot Walk Test. We will also assess walking endurance, balance, depression, fatigue and QoL as well as instrumental laboratory markers (muscle metabolism, cerebral venous hemodynamics, cortical activation) and circulating laboratory markers (rare circulating cell populations pro and anti-inflammatory cytokines/chemokines, growth factors, neurotrophic factors, coagulation factors, other plasma proteins suggested by transcriptomic analysis and metabolic parameters). Discussion: The RAGT training is expected to improve mobility compared to the active control intervention in progressive MS. Unique to this study is the analysis of various potential markers of plasticity in relation with clinical outcomes. Trial registration:, identifier: NCT02421731. Registered on 19 January 2015 (retrospectively registered).