Potentiating paired corticospinal-motoneuronal plasticity after spinal cord injury

Brain Stimul. 2018 Sep-Oct;11(5):1083-1092. doi: 10.1016/j.brs.2018.05.006. Epub 2018 May 9.


Background: Paired corticospinal-motoneuronal stimulation (PCMS) increases corticospinal transmission in humans with chronic incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI).

Objective/hypothesis: Here, we examine whether increases in the excitability of spinal motoneurons, by performing voluntary activity, could potentiate PCMS effects on corticospinal transmission.

Methods: During PCMS, we used 100 pairs of stimuli where corticospinal volleys evoked by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) over the hand representation of the primary motor cortex were timed to arrive at corticospinal-motoneuronal synapses of the first dorsal interosseous (FDI) muscle ∼1-2 ms before antidromic potentials were elicited in motoneurons by electrical stimulation of the ulnar nerve. PCMS was applied at rest (PCMSrest) and during a small level of isometric index finger abduction (PCMSactive) on separate days. Motor evoked potentials (MEPs) elicited by TMS and electrical stimulation were measured in the FDI muscle before and after each protocol in humans with and without (controls) chronic cervical SCI.

Results: We found in control participants that MEPs elicited by TMS and electrical stimulation increased to a similar extent after both PCMS protocols for ∼30 min. Whereas, in humans with SCI, MEPs elicited by TMS and electrical stimulation increased to a larger extent after PCMSactive compared with PCMSrest. Importantly, SCI participants who did not respond to PCMSrest responded after PCMSactive and those who responded to both protocols showed larger increments in corticospinal transmission after PCMSactive.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that muscle contraction during PCMS potentiates corticospinal transmission. PCMS applied during voluntary activity may represent a strategy to boost spinal plasticity after SCI.

Keywords: Corticospinal; Corticospinal-motoneuronal; Neurophysiology; Neuroplasticity; Spike-timing dependent plasticity; Spinal cord injury.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / methods*
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Neurons / physiology
  • Muscle Contraction
  • Neuronal Plasticity*
  • Pyramidal Tracts / physiopathology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / therapy
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*