Cervical spinal cord contusion is the most common human spinal cord injury, yet few rodent models replicate the pathophysiological and functional sequela of this injury. Here, we modified an electromechanical injury device and characterized the behavioral and histological changes occurring in response to a lateralized C4 contusion injury in rats. A key feature of the model includes a non-injurious touch phase where the spinal cord surface is dimpled with a consistent starting force. Animals were either left intact as a control, received a non-injury-producing touch on the surface of the cord ("sham"), or received a 0.6 mm or a 0.8 mm displacement injury. Rats were then tested on the forelimb asymmetry use test, CatWalk, and the Irvine, Beatties, and Bresnahan (IBB) cereal manipulation task to assess proximal and distal upper limb function for 12 weeks. Injuries of moderate (0.6 mm) and large (0.8 mm) displacement showed consistent differences in forelimb asymmetry, metrics of the CatWalk, and sub-scores of the IBB. Overall findings indicated long lasting proximal and distal upper limb deficits following 0.8 mm injury but transient proximal with prolonged distal limb deficits following 0.6 mm injury. Significant differences in loss of ipsilateral unmyelinated and myelinated white matter was detected between injury severities. Demyelination was primarily localized to the dorsolateral region of the hemicord and extended further rostral following 0.8 mm injury. These findings establish the C4 hemi-contusion injury as a consistent, graded model for testing novel treatments targeting forelimb functional recovery.
Keywords: behavioral assessments; models of injury; spinal cord injury.