Direct evidence for decreased presynaptic inhibition evoked by PBSt group I muscle afferents after chronic SCI and recovery with step-training in rats

J Physiol. 2020 Oct;598(20):4621-4642. doi: 10.1113/JP280070. Epub 2020 Aug 13.


Key points: Presynaptic inhibition is modulated by supraspinal centres and primary afferents in order to filter sensory information, adjust spinal reflex excitability, and ensure smooth movement. After spinal cord injury (SCI), the supraspinal control of primary afferent depolarization (PAD) interneurons is disengaged, suggesting an increased role for sensory afferents. While increased H-reflex excitability in spastic individuals indicates a possible decrease in presynaptic inhibition, it remains unclear whether a decrease in sensory-evoked PAD contributes to this effect. We investigated whether the PAD evoked by hindlimb afferents contributes to the change in presynaptic inhibition of the H-reflex in a decerebrated rat preparation. We found that chronic SCI decreases presynaptic inhibition of the plantar H-reflex through a reduction in PAD evoked by posterior biceps-semitendinosus (PBSt) muscle group I afferents. We further found that step-training restored presynaptic inhibition of the plantar H-reflex evoked by PBSt, suggesting the presence of activity-dependent plasticity of PAD pathways activated by flexor muscle group I afferents.

Abstract: Spinal cord injury (SCI) results in the disruption of supraspinal control of spinal networks and an increase in the relative influence of afferent feedback to sublesional neural networks, both of which contribute to enhancing spinal reflex excitability. Hyperreflexia occurs in ∼75% of individuals with a chronic SCI and critically hinders functional recovery and quality of life. It is suggested that it results from an increase in motoneuronal excitability and a decrease in presynaptic and postsynaptic inhibitory mechanisms. In contrast, locomotor training decreases hyperreflexia by restoring presynaptic inhibition. Primary afferent depolarization (PAD) is a powerful presynaptic inhibitory mechanism that selectively gates primary afferent transmission to spinal neurons to adjust reflex excitability and ensure smooth movement. However, the effect of chronic SCI and step-training on the reorganization of presynaptic inhibition evoked by hindlimb afferents, and the contribution of PAD has never been demonstrated. The objective of this study is to directly measure changes in presynaptic inhibition through dorsal root potentials (DRPs) and its association with plantar H-reflex inhibition. We provide direct evidence that H-reflex hyperexcitability is associated with a decrease in transmission of PAD pathways activated by posterior biceps-semitendinosus (PBSt) afferents after chronic SCI. More precisely, we illustrate that the pattern of inhibition evoked by PBSt group I muscle afferents onto both L4-DRPs and plantar H-reflexes evoked by the distal tibial nerve is impaired after chronic SCI. These changes are not observed in step-trained animals, suggesting a role for activity-dependent plasticity to regulate PAD pathways activated by flexor muscle group I afferents.

Keywords: H-reflex; dorsal root potential; presynaptic inhibition; spinal cord injury; step-training.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electric Stimulation
  • H-Reflex
  • Hamstring Muscles*
  • Neural Inhibition
  • Neurons, Afferent
  • Quality of Life
  • Rats
  • Spinal Cord
  • Spinal Cord Injuries*