Repeated periods of stimulation of the spinal cord and training seems to have amplified the ability to consciously control movement.
An individual three years post C7-T1 subluxation presented with a complete loss of clinically detectable voluntary motor function and partial preservation of sensation below the T1 cord segment. Following 170 locomotor training sessions, a 16-electrode array was surgically placed on the dura (L1-S1 cord segments) to allow for chronic electrical stimulation. After implantation and throughout stand retraining with epidural stimulation, 29 experiments were performed. Extensive stimulation combinations and parameters were tested to achieve standing and stepping.
Epidural stimulation enabled the human lumbosacral spinal circuitry to dynamically elicit full weight-bearing standing with assistance provided only for balance for 4·25 minutes in a subject with a clinically motor complete SCI. This occurred when using stimulation at parameters optimized for standing while providing bilateral load-bearing proprioceptive input. Locomotor-like patterns were also observed when stimulation parameters were optimized for stepping. In addition, seven months after implantation, the subject recovered supraspinal control of certain leg movements, but only during epidural stimulation.
Even after a severe low cervical spinal injury, the neural networks remaining within the lumbosacral segments can be reactivated into functional states so that it can recognize specific details of ensembles of sensory input to the extent that it can serve as the source of neural control. In addition, newly formed supraspinal input to this same lumbosacral segments can re-emerge as another source of control. Task specific training with epidural stimulation may have reactivated previously silent spared neural circuits or promoted plasticity. This suggests that these interventions could be a viable clinical approach for functional recovery after severe paralysis.
National Institutes of Health and Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.