How plastic are human spinal cord motor circuitries?

Exp Brain Res. 2017 Nov;235(11):3243-3249. doi: 10.1007/s00221-017-5037-x. Epub 2017 Aug 3.


Human and animal studies have documented that neural circuitries in the spinal cord show adaptive changes caused by altered supraspinal and/or afferent input to the spinal circuitry in relation to learning, immobilization, injury and neurorehabilitation. Reversible adaptations following, e.g. the acquisition or refinement of a motor skill rely heavily on the functional integration between supraspinal and sensory inputs to the spinal cord networks. Accordingly, what is frequently conceived as a change in the spinal circuitry may be a change in either descending or afferent input or in the relative integration of these, i.e. a change in the neuronal weighting. This is evident from findings documenting only task-specific functional changes after periods of altered inputs whereas resting responses remain unaffected. In fact, the proximity of the spinal circuitry to the outer world may demand a more rigid organization compared to the highly flexible cortical circuits. The understanding of all of this is important for the planning and execution of neurorehabilitation.

Keywords: Humans; Motor control; Plasticity; Reflexes; Spinal cord.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Reflex / physiology*
  • Spinal Cord / physiology*