Working around spinal injuries: Rehabilitation, drug treatment lets rats recover some involuntary movement

July 24, 2017, UC Davis
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A new study in rats shows that changes in the brain after spinal cord injury are necessary to restore at least some function to lower limbs. The work was published recently in the journal eLife.

"After injury, the cannot go back to its original state before the injury. If an animal receives rehabilitation therapy, we now know that the spinal cord will go to a new state that supports functional recovery. Under these conditions, the brain must also change and re-learn to communicate with the new state of the spinal cord," said Karen Moxon, professor of biomedical engineering at UC Davis and senior author on the paper.

Moxon and colleagues used a combination of physical therapy (cycling and semi-load bearing treadmill training) and treatment with the drug serotonin, which stimulates nerve cells, in rats with a severed spinal cord that could not voluntarily move their hind legs.

The rats partially recovered their ability to move their hind limbs while on the treadmill and were even able to take consecutive, independent steps, the researchers found.

This occurred without healing of the break in the spinal cord. Instead, the above the break appear to have re-routed their outputs to control muscles running down the animal's trunk that span the break, Moxon said. Brain areas that previously controlled the legs instead stiffened these back muscles.

Stiffening these muscles allowed the rats to lift their hindquarters such that the leg muscles and the spinal cord below the break could make simple, repetitive leg movements resulting in the animal supporting its own weight and taking independent steps.

The results show that the body can, to some extent, work around a break in the spinal cord without having to repair it, Moxon said.

"The system can find ways to bridge that lesion, up to a point," she said. However, the are still not capable of voluntary movement of their - only reflexive movements.

In future work, Moxon hopes to connect the reorganized brain circuits to through a brain/machine interface to restore voluntary movements.

Explore further: Fetal movement proven essential for neuron development in rats

More information: Anitha Manohar et al, Cortex-dependent recovery of unassisted hindlimb locomotion after complete spinal cord injury in adult rats, eLife (2017). DOI: 10.7554/eLife.23532

Related Stories

Fetal movement proven essential for neuron development in rats

November 15, 2016
A newborn rat's brain development stage is close to that of a human embryo in the second half of pregnancy, which allows suggests that similar movement patterns can help neuron development in humans. The research was published ...

Neural stem cell therapies could eventually play a role in treating spinal cord injuries

May 4, 2017
Researchers in Qatar and Egypt, working with colleagues in Italy and the US, have found that injured spinal cords in rats show signs of tissue regeneration several weeks following injection with neural stem cells.

Potential target for restoring ejaculation in men with spinal cord injuries or ejaculatory disorders

December 5, 2016
New research provides insights on how to restore the ability to ejaculate in men who are not able to do so.

Innovative imaging study shows that the spinal cord learns on its own

June 30, 2015
The spinal cord engages in its own learning of motor tasks independent of the brain, according to an innovative imaging study publishing on June 30th in Open Access journal PLOS Biology. The results of the study, conducted ...

Recommended for you

New clues to the origin and progression of multiple sclerosis

November 13, 2018
Mapping of a certain group of cells, known as oligodendrocytes, in the central nervous system of a mouse model of multiple sclerosis (MS), shows that they might have a significant role in the development of the disease. The ...

Concussion tied to suicide risk

November 12, 2018
(HealthDay)—People who have experienced either a concussion or a mild traumatic brain injury are twice as likely to commit suicide than others, a new review suggests.

Mutations, CRISPR, and the biology behind movement disorders

November 12, 2018
Scientists at the RIKEN Center for Brain Science (CBS) in Japan have discovered how mutations related to a group of movement disorders produce their effects. Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the ...

In live brain function, researchers are finally seeing red

November 12, 2018
For years, green has been the most reliable hue for live brain imaging, but after using a new high-throughput screening method, researchers at the John B. Pierce Laboratory and the Yale School of Medicine, together with collaborators ...

Autism is associated with zinc deficiency in early development—now a study links the two

November 9, 2018
The emergence of autism in children has not only been linked to genes encoding synaptic proteins—among others—but also environmental insults such as zinc deficiency. Although it is unclear whether zinc deficiency contributes ...

Scientists solve century-old neuroscience mystery—answers may lead to epilepsy treatment

November 9, 2018
Scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute have solved a 125-year-old mystery of the brain, and, in the process, uncovered a potential treatment for acquired epilepsy.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.