Despite the increasing incidence and prevalence of cervical spinal cord injury (cSCI), we lack clinically relevant animal models that can be used to study the pathomechanisms of this injury and test new therapies. Here, we characterize a moderate cervical contusion-compression model in rats that is similar to incomplete traumatic cSCI in humans. We characterized the effects of 18-g clip-compression injury at cervical level C6 over an 8-week recovery period. Using Luxol fast blue/hematoxylin-eosin staining in combination with quantitative stereology, we determined that 18-g injury results in loss of gray matter (GM), white matter (WM), as well as in cavity formation. Magnetization transfer and T2-weighted magnetic resonance imaging were used to analyze lesion dynamics in vivo. This analysis demonstrated that both techniques are able to differentiate between the injury epicenter, subpial rim, and WM distal to the injury. Neurobehavioral assessment of locomotor function using Basso, Beattie, and Bresnahan (BBB) scoring and CatWalk revealed limited recovery from clip-compression injury at C6. Testing of forelimb function using grip strength demonstrated significant forelimb dysfunction, similar to the loss of upper-limb motor function observed in human cSCI. Sensory-evoked potentials recorded from the forelimb and Hoffman reflex recorded from the hindlimb confirmed the fore- and hindlimb deficits observed in our neurobehavioral analysis. Here, we have characterized a clip-compression model of incomplete cSCI that closely models this condition in humans. This work directly addresses the current lack of clinically relevant models of cSCI and will thus contribute to improved success in the translation of putative therapies into the clinic.
Keywords: cervical spinal cord injury; forelimb function.