Neurophysiological examination of the corticospinal system and voluntary motor control in motor-incomplete human spinal cord injury

Exp Brain Res. 2005 Jun;163(3):379-87. doi: 10.1007/s00221-004-2190-9. Epub 2004 Dec 23.


This study employed neurophysiological methods to relate the condition of the corticospinal system with the voluntary control of lower-limb muscles in persons with motor-incomplete spinal cord injury. It consisted of two phases. In a group of ten healthy subjects, single and paired transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) of the motor cortex was used to study the behavior of the resulting motor evoked potentials (MEP) in lower-limb muscles. Interstimulus intervals (ISIs) of 15-100 ms were examined for augmentation of test MEPs by threshold or subthreshold conditioning stimuli. The second phase of this study examined eight incomplete spinal cord injured (iSCI) subjects, American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale C (n = 5) and D (n = 3) in whom voluntary motor control was quantified using the surface EMG (sEMG) based Voluntary Response Index (VRI). The VRI is calculated to characterize relative output patterns across ten lower-limb muscles recorded during a standard protocol of elementary voluntary motor tasks. VRI components were calculated by comparing the distribution of sEMG in iSCI subjects with prototype patterns collected from 15 healthy subjects using the same rigidly administered protocol, The resulting similarity index (SI) and magnitude values provided the measure of voluntary motor control. Corticospinal system connections were characterized by the thresholds for MEPs in key muscles. Key muscles were those that function as the prime-movers, or agonists for the voluntary movements from which the VRI data were calculated. Results include healthy-subject data that showed significant increases in conditioned MEP responses with paired stimuli of 15-50 ms ISI. Stimulus pairs of 75 and 100 ms showed no increase in MEP peak amplitude over that of the single-pulse conditioning stimulus alone, usually no response. For the iSCI subjects, 42% of the agonists responded to single-pulse TMS and 25% required paired-pulse TMS to produce an MEP. American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale component motor scores for agonist muscles, Quadriceps, Tibialis Anterior, and Triceps Surae, were significantly lower where MEPs could not be obtained (p < 0.05). VRI values were also significantly lower for motor tasks with agonists that had no resting MEP (p < 0.01). Therefore, the presence of a demonstrable connection between the motor cortex and spinal motor neurons in persons with SCI was related to the quality of post-injury voluntary motor control as assessed by the VRI.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Electromyography
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetics
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology
  • Pyramidal Tracts / physiology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Volition / physiology