The loss of sensory input following a spinal deafferentation injury can be debilitating, and this is especially true in primates when the hand is involved. Although significant recovery of function occurs, little is currently understood about the reorganization of the neuronal circuitry, particularly within the dorsal horn. This region receives primary afferent input from the periphery, and cortical input via the somatosensory subcomponent of the corticospinal tract (S1 CST), and is critically important in modulating sensory transmission, both in normal and lesioned states. To determine how dorsal horn circuitry alters to facilitate recovery post-injury, we used an established deafferentation lesion model (dorsal root/dorsal column) in male monkeys to remove sensory input from just the opposing digits (digits 1-3) of one hand. This results in a deficit in fine dexterity that recovers over several months. Electrophysiological mapping, tract tracing, and immunolabeling techniques were combined to delineate specific changes to dorsal horn input circuitry. Our main findings show that (1) there is complementary sprouting of the primary afferent and S1 CST populations into an overlapping region of the reorganizing dorsal horn; (2) S1 CST and primary afferent inputs connect in different ways within this region to facilitate sensory integration; and (3) there is a loss of larger S1 CST terminal boutons in the affected dorsal horn, but no change in the size profile of the spared/sprouted primary afferent terminal boutons post-lesion. Understanding such changes helps to inform new and targeted therapies that best promote recovery.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Spinal injuries that remove sensation from the hand, can be debilitating, though functional recovery does occur. We examined changes to the neuronal circuitry of the dorsal horn in monkeys following a lesion that deafferented three digits of one hand. Little is understood about dorsal horn circuitry, despite the fact that this region loses most of its normal input after such an injury, and is clearly a major focus of reorganization. We found that both the spared primary afferents and somatosensory corticospinal efferents sprouted in an overlapping region of the dorsal horn after injury, and that larger (presumably faster) corticospinal terminals are lost, suggesting a significantly altered cortical modulation of primary afferents. Understanding this changing circuitry is important for designing targeted therapies.
Keywords: corticospinal tract; dorsal column lesion; dorsal root lesion; nonhuman primate; somatosensory; spinal cord injury.
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