Reaching training in rats with spinal cord injury promotes plasticity and task specific recovery

Brain. 2007 Nov;130(Pt 11):2993-3003. doi: 10.1093/brain/awm245. Epub 2007 Oct 10.


In the current study we examined the effects of training in adult rats with a cervical spinal cord injury (SCI). One group of rats received 6 weeks of training in a single pellet reaching task immediately after injury, while a second group did not receive training. Following this period changes in cortical levels of BDNF and GAP-43 were analysed in trained and untrained animals and in a group with training but no injury. In another group of rats, functional recovery was analysed in the reaching task and when walking on a horizontal ladder. Thereupon, the cortical forelimb area was electrophysiologically examined using micro-stimulation followed by tracing of the lesioned corticospinal tract (CST). We found that trained rats improved substantially in the reaching task, when compared to their untrained counterparts. Trained rats however, performed significantly worse with their injured forelimb when walking on a horizontal ladder. In parallel to the improved recovery in the trained task, we found that the cortical area where wrist movements could be evoked by micro-stimulation expanded in trained rats in comparison to both untrained and uninjured rats. Furthermore, collateral sprouting of lesioned CST fibres rostral to the injury was increased in trained rats. Post-injury training was also found to increase cortical levels of GAP-43 but not BDNF. In conclusion we show that training of a reaching task promotes recovery of the trained task following partial SCI by enhancing plasticity at various levels of the central nervous system (CNS), but may come at the cost of an untrained task.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / analysis
  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor / genetics
  • Female
  • Forelimb
  • GAP-43 Protein / analysis
  • GAP-43 Protein / genetics
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Situ Hybridization
  • Male
  • Models, Animal
  • Neck Injuries / physiopathology
  • Neck Injuries / rehabilitation*
  • Nerve Regeneration*
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Physical Therapy Modalities*
  • Pyramidal Tracts / metabolism
  • Pyramidal Tracts / pathology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Lew
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Recovery of Function
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism
  • Spinal Cord / pathology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / metabolism
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / pathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / rehabilitation*


  • Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor
  • GAP-43 Protein