In a recent clinical report, return of the tendon stretch reflex was demonstrated after spinal cord surgery in a case of total traumatic brachial plexus avulsion injury. Peripheral nerve grafts had been implanted into the spinal cord to reconnect to the peripheral nerves for motor and sensory function. The dorsal root ganglia (DRG) containing the primary sensory nerve cells had been surgically removed in order for secondary or spinal cord sensory neurons to extend into the periphery and replace the deleted DRG neurons. The present experimental study uses a rat injury model first to corroborate the clinical finding of a re-established spinal reflex arch, and second, to elucidate some of the potential mechanisms underlying these findings by means of morphological, immunohistochemical, and electrophysiological assessments. Our findings indicate that, after spinal cord surgery, the central nervous system sensory system could replace the traumatically detached original peripheral sensory connections through new neurite growth from dendrites.
Keywords: avulsion injury; electrophysiology; plasticity; proprioception; sensory neurons.