New assessment techniques for evaluation of posttraumatic spinal cord function in the rat

J Neurotrauma. 1996 Dec;13(12):741-54. doi: 10.1089/neu.1996.13.741.


To evaluate new pharmacologic agents with potentially beneficial effects on posttraumatic spinal cord function, we used a modified weight drop (WD) technique to induce spinal cord injuries. These contusive spinal cord injuries in the rat closely mimic the human clinicopathologic situation. Especially for drug screening purposes, the moderate and mild injuries are of interest, as both the beneficial and potentially harmful effects of experimental treatment can be detected. In this study, we describe two new functional tests that were particularly designed to detect small differences in spinal cord function after moderate and mild injuries. First, for examination of locomotion, a computer analysis of the thoracolumbar height (TLH) was designed. Second, for investigation of the conduction properties of the injured rat spinal cord, we measured rubrospinal motor evoked potentials (MEP). The efficacy of the new assessment techniques to monitor spinal cord function was compared to Tarlov scores and to morphometric analysis of preserved white matter at the injury site. The results of this study indicated that for behavioral analysis, TLH measurements as compared with Tarlov rating appeared to be more sensitive for exact and objective discrimination between small differences in motor function. Amplitudes of the rubrospinal MEP, but not latencies or the number of peaks, proved to be most sensitive to determine subtle differences in posttraumatic spinal cord function. A significant linear correlation was found between TLH and amplitude of the rubrospinal MEP. We conclude that for objective assessment of the spinal cord after moderate and mild contusive injury, TLH and rubrospinal MEP amplitudes are very valuable measures to demonstrate small functional differences.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electrophysiology
  • Evoked Potentials, Motor
  • Lumbosacral Region
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Neurology / methods*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Reaction Time
  • Red Nucleus / physiopathology
  • Spinal Cord / physiopathology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Thorax