Therapy induces widespread reorganization of motor cortex after complete spinal transection that supports motor recovery

Exp Neurol. 2016 May;279:1-12. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2016.01.022. Epub 2016 Jan 28.


Reorganization of the somatosensory system and its relationship to functional recovery after spinal cord injury (SCI) has been well studied. However, little is known about the impact of SCI on organization of the motor system. Recent studies suggest that step-training paradigms in combination with spinal stimulation, either electrically or through pharmacology, are more effective than step training alone at inducing recovery and that reorganization of descending corticospinal circuits is necessary. However, simpler, passive exercise combined with pharmacotherapy has also shown functional improvement after SCI and reorganization of, at least, the sensory cortex. In this study we assessed the effect of passive exercise and serotonergic (5-HT) pharmacological therapies on behavioral recovery and organization of the motor cortex. We compared the effects of passive hindlimb bike exercise to bike exercise combined with daily injections of 5-HT agonists in a rat model of complete mid-thoracic transection. 5-HT pharmacotherapy combined with bike exercise allowed the animals to achieve unassisted weight support in the open field. This combination of therapies also produced extensive expansion of the axial trunk motor cortex into the deafferented hindlimb motor cortex and, surprisingly, reorganization within the caudal and even the rostral forelimb motor cortex areas. The extent of the axial trunk expansion was correlated to improvement in behavioral recovery of hindlimbs during open field locomotion, including weight support. From a translational perspective, these data suggest a rationale for developing and optimizing cost-effective, non-invasive, pharmacological and passive exercise regimes to promote plasticity that supports restoration of movement after spinal cord injury.

Keywords: Exercise; Hindlimbs; Intracortical microstimulation; Motor cortex; Pharmacotherapy; Serotonin; Spinal cord injury; Therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bicycling
  • Efferent Pathways / pathology
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Female
  • Hindlimb / innervation
  • Hindlimb / physiopathology
  • Locomotion
  • Microelectrodes
  • Motor Cortex / pathology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Recovery of Function
  • Serotonin Agents / therapeutic use
  • Somatosensory Cortex / pathology
  • Spinal Cord / pathology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / drug therapy
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / pathology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / therapy*


  • Serotonin Agents