Rats Regain Ability to Walk After Spinal Cord Injury

Cortex-dependent recovery triggered after electrochemical treatment, encouraging movement

FRIDAY, June 1 (HealthDay News) -- Rats with spinal cord injury are able to regain locomotion after electrochemical treatment and encouragement of supraspinally mediated movements, in a cortical-dependent manner, according to a study published in the June 1 issue of Science.

Rubia van den Brand, Ph.D., of the University of Zurich, and colleagues paralyzed rats by severing the spinal cord, applied epidural electrical stimulation, and injected a chemical solution of monoamine agonists to replace neurotransmitters released by healthy brains. The rats were placed into a robotic postural interface which was made to encourage supraspinally mediated movements.

Although the direct supraspinal pathways had been interrupted, the researchers found that the capacity to transform contextual information into commands was regained by the cortex, and that these commands were able to induce refined locomotion. During this recovery, there was extrusive remodeling of cortical projections. This included formation of brainstem and intraspinal relays which allowed for restoration of control over electrochemically-enabled lumbosacral circuitries. Translesional plasticity and recovery were not promoted by automated treadmill-restricted training, which did not engage cortical neurons.

"By encouraging active participation under functional states, our training paradigm triggered a cortex-dependent recovery that may improve function after similar injuries in humans," van den Brand and colleagues conclude.

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