Background: Cerebellar electrical stimulation has shown promise in improving motor recovery post-stroke in both rodent and human studies. Past studies have used motor evoked potentials (MEPs) to evaluate how cerebellar stimulation modulates ongoing activity in the cortex, but the underlying mechanisms are incompletely understood. Here we used invasive electrophysiological recordings from the intact and stroke-injured rodent primary motor cortex (M1) to assess how epidural cerebellar stimulation modulates neural dynamics at the level of single neurons as well as at the level of mesoscale dynamics.
Methods: We recorded single unit spiking and local field potentials (LFPs) in both the intact and acutely stroke-injured M1 contralateral to the stimulated cerebellum in adult Long-Evans rats under anesthesia. We analyzed changes in the firing rates of single units, the extent of synchronous spiking and power spectral density (PSD) changes in LFPs during and post-stimulation.
Results: Our results show that post-stimulation, the firing rates of a majority of M1 neurons changed significantly with respect to their baseline rates. These firing rate changes were diverse in character, as the firing rate of some neurons increased while others decreased. Additionally, these changes started to set in during stimulation. Furthermore, cross-correlation analysis showed a significant increase in coincident firing amongst neuronal pairs. Interestingly, this increase in synchrony was unrelated to the direction of firing rate change. We also found that neuronal ensembles derived through principal component analysis were more active post-stimulation. Lastly, these changes occurred without a significant change in the overall spectral power of LFPs post-stimulation.
Conclusions: Our results show that cerebellar stimulation caused significant, long-lasting changes in the activity patterns of M1 neurons by altering firing rates, boosting neural synchrony and increasing neuronal assemblies' activation strength. Our study provides evidence that cerebellar stimulation can directly modulate cortical dynamics. Since these results are present in the perilesional cortex, our data might also help explain the facilitatory effects of cerebellar stimulation post-stroke.
Keywords: Cerebellum; Epidural direct current stimulation; Motor cortex; Neural plasticity.