Methods to assess the development and recovery of locomotor function after spinal cord injury in rats

Exp Neurol. 1993 Feb;119(2):153-64. doi: 10.1006/exnr.1993.1017.


The ability to assess recovery of function after spinal cord injury is a very important part of spinal cord injury research. Recent progress has been made in a number of avenues of treatment designed to ameliorate the consequences of spinal cord injury and enhance recovery of function. This potential for intervention to modify the sequellae of spinal cord injury requires stringent criteria for methods used to evaluate the effects of injury and subsequent recovery of function. Methods which rely on composite ratings of an animal's overall performance, while appropriate for screening groups of animals with spinal cord injury, are not sufficient to demonstrate whether a particular treatment has had a specific effect on motor function or the degree to which function is affected. We have designed a series of sensitive quantitative methods to assess the recovery of locomotor function in rats. The methods examine specific reflex responses and specific components of motor behavior and are sensitive to subtle differences in the pattern of locomotion and individual limb movements. Several of the tests can be used to assess the development of locomotor function as well as the mature response. Postural reflex testing and locomotor function under conditions of graded difficulty are examined and the motor capacity of individual limbs is assessed. Animals are trained to cross runways, to walk on a treadmill, and to climb onto a platform. The animals' performance is videotaped for subsequent quantitative analysis. The pattern of overground and treadmill locomotion is also examined by footprint analysis. Spinal cord injury alters an animal's reflex responses and deficits are evident in locomotor function. Examples are given of the quantitative measurements obtained from analysis of the animals' performance on each of the tests. No single test is sufficient to assess recovery of function after spinal cord injury. Rather, a combination of tests, each examining particular components of normal and recovered motor function, is required. The methods used to assess recovery of locomotor function are specific, are sensitive, and allow individual limb movements to be isolated. Such specific methods allow one to begin to address the mechanisms underlying recovery of function following spinal cord injury.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Proprioception / physiology
  • Rats
  • Reflex / physiology
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*