Effects of early exercise training on the severity of autonomic dysreflexia following incomplete spinal cord injury in rodents

Physiol Rep. 2021 Aug;9(15):e14969. doi: 10.14814/phy2.14969.


Hemodynamic instability and cardiovascular (CV) dysfunction are hallmarks of patients living with cervical and high thoracic spinal cord injuries (SCI). Individuals experience bouts of autonomic dysreflexia (AD) and persistent hypotension which hamper the activities of daily living. Despite the widespread use of exercise training to improve health and CV function after SCI, little is known about how different training modalities impact hemodynamic stability and severity of AD in a model of incomplete SCI. In this study, we used implantable telemetry devices to assess animals with T2 contusions following 3.5 weeks of exercise training initiated 8 days post-injury: passive hindlimb cycling (T2-CYC, n = 5) or active forelimb swimming (T2-SW, n = 6). Uninjured and non-exercised SCI control groups were also included (CON, n = 6; T2-CON, n = 7; T10-CON, n = 6). Five weeks post-injury, both T2-CON and T2-CYC presented with resting hypotension compared to uninjured CON and T10-CON groups; no differences were noted in resting blood pressure in T2-SW versus CON and T10-CON. Furthermore, pressor responses to colorectal distention (AD) were larger in all T2-injured groups compared to T10-CON, and were not attenuated by either form of exercise training. Interestingly, when T2-injured animals were re-stratified based on terminal BBB scores (regardless of training group), animals with limited hindlimb recovery (T2-LOW, n = 7) had more severe AD responses. Our results suggest that the spontaneous recovery of locomotor and autonomic function after severe but incomplete T2 SCI also influences the severity of AD, and that short periods (3.5 weeks) of passive hindlimb cycling or active forelimb swimming are ineffective in this model.

Keywords: autonomic dysreflexia; cardiovascular; exercise; spinal cord injury.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autonomic Dysreflexia / etiology
  • Autonomic Dysreflexia / pathology
  • Autonomic Dysreflexia / prevention & control*
  • Blood Pressure
  • Heart Rate
  • Hindlimb / blood supply*
  • Male
  • Physical Conditioning, Animal*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / complications*
  • Swimming*