Recovery of hindlimb locomotion after incomplete spinal cord injury in the cat involves spontaneous compensatory changes within the spinal locomotor circuitry

J Neurophysiol. 2011 Oct;106(4):1969-84. doi: 10.1152/jn.00368.2011. Epub 2011 Jul 20.


After incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI), compensatory changes occur throughout the whole neuraxis, including the spinal cord below the lesion, as suggested by previous experiments using a dual SCI paradigm. Indeed, cats submitted to a lateral spinal hemisection at T10-T11 and trained on a treadmill for 3-14 wk re-expressed bilateral hindlimb locomotion as soon as 24 h after spinalization, a process that normally takes 2-3 wk when a complete spinalization is performed without a prior hemisection. In this study, we wanted to ascertain whether similar effects could occur spontaneously without training between the two SCIs and within a short period of 3 wk in 11 cats. One day after the complete spinalization, 9 of the 11 cats were able to re-express hindlimb locomotion either bilaterally (n = 6) or unilaterally on the side of the previous hemisection (n = 3). In these 9 cats, the hindlimb on the side of the previous hemisection (left hindlimb) performed better than the right side in contrast to that observed during the hemispinal period itself. Cats re-expressing the best bilateral hindlimb locomotion after spinalization had the largest initial hemilesion and the most prominent locomotor deficits after this first SCI. These results provide evidence that 1) marked reorganization of the spinal locomotor circuitry can occur without specific locomotor training and within a short period of 3 wk; 2) the spinal cord can reorganize in a more or less symmetrical way; and 3) the ability to walk after spinalization depends on the degree of deficits and adaptation observed in the hemispinal period.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cats
  • Cordotomy / methods
  • Decerebrate State / physiopathology
  • Electromyography
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality
  • Gait Disorders, Neurologic / physiopathology*
  • Hindlimb / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Recovery of Function
  • Spinal Cord / pathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Thoracic Vertebrae