Cortex-dependent recovery of unassisted hindlimb locomotion after complete spinal cord injury in adult rats

Elife. 2017 Jun 29;6:e23532. doi: 10.7554/eLife.23532.


After paralyzing spinal cord injury the adult nervous system has little ability to 'heal' spinal connections, and it is assumed to be unable to develop extra-spinal recovery strategies to bypass the lesion. We challenge this assumption, showing that completely spinalized adult rats can recover unassisted hindlimb weight support and locomotion without explicit spinal transmission of motor commands through the lesion. This is achieved with combinations of pharmacological and physical therapies that maximize cortical reorganization, inducing an expansion of trunk motor cortex and forepaw sensory cortex into the deafferented hindlimb cortex, associated with sprouting of corticospinal axons. Lesioning the reorganized cortex reverses the recovery. Adult rats can thus develop a novel cortical sensorimotor circuit that bypasses the lesion, probably through biomechanical coupling, to partly recover unassisted hindlimb locomotion after complete spinal cord injury.

Keywords: SpinalCord; cortex; neuroscience; plasticity; rat.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / physiology
  • Hindlimb / physiology*
  • Locomotion
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Recovery of Function*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries*