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1.  Flexor reflex decreases during sympathetic stimulation in chronic human spinal cord injury 
Experimental neurology  2009;219(2):507-515.
A better understanding of autonomic influence on motor reflex pathways in spinal cord injury is important to the clinical management of autonomic dysreflexia and spasticity in spinal cord injured patients. The purpose of this study was to examine the modulation of flexor reflex windup during episodes of induced sympathetic activity in chronic human spinal cord injury (SCI). We simultaneously measured peripheral vascular conductance and the windup of the flexor reflex in response to conditioning stimuli of electrocutaneous stimulation to the opposite leg and bladder percussion. Flexor reflexes were quantified using torque measurements of the response to a noxious electrical stimulus applied to the skin of the medial arch of the foot. Both bladder percussion and skin conditioning stimuli produced a reduction (43-67%) in the ankle and hip flexor torques (p<0.05) of the flexor reflex. This reduction was accompanied by a simultaneous reduction in vascular conductance, measured using venous plethysmography, with a time course that matched the flexor reflex depression. While there was an overall attenuation of the flexor reflex, windup of the flexor reflex to repeated stimuli was maintained during periods of increased sympathetic activity. This paradoxical depression of flexor reflexes and minimal effect on windup is consistent with inhibition of afferent feedback within the superficial dorsal horn. The results of this study bring attention to the possible interaction of motor and sympathetic reflexes in SCI above and below the T5 spinal level, and have implications for clinicians in spasticity management and for researchers investigating motor reflexes post SCI.
PMCID: PMC4025906  PMID: 19615998
autonomic dysreflexia; windup; spasticity
2.  Gabapentin for Spasticity and Autonomic Dysreflexia after Severe Spinal Cord Injury 
Spinal cord  2010;49(1):99-105.
Study Design
Utilizing a complete transection spinal cord injury (SCI) model at the fourth thoracic vertebral level in adult rats, we evaluated whether blocking noxious stimuli below the injury diminishes abnormal somatic and autonomic motor reflexes, manifested in muscular spasticity and hypertensive autonomic dysreflexia, respectively. Gabapentin (GBP) is well-tolerated and currently used to manage neuropathic pain in the SCI population; evidence suggests it acts to decrease presynaptic glutamate release. Since clinical evidence indicates that GBP may suppress muscular spasticity in the chronic SCI population, we hypothesized that preventing neurotransmission of noxious stimuli with GBP eliminates a critical physiological link to these distinct, debilitating SCI-induced secondary impairments.
Behavioural assessments of tail muscle spasticity and mean arterial blood pressure responses to noxious somatic and/or visceral stimulation were used to test the effects of GBP on these abnormal reflexes.
Lexington, Kentucky
We employed femoral artery catheterization and radio-telemetric approaches to monitor blood pressure alterations in response to noxious colorectal distension (CRD) weeks after complete SCI.
At 2-3 weeks post-SCI, acute GBP administration (50 mg/kg, i.p.) significantly attenuated both autonomic dysreflexia and tail spasticity induced by noxious stimuli compared to saline-treated cohorts.
These results demonstrate, for the first time, that a single pharmacological intervention, GBP, can effectively attenuate the manifestation of both muscular spasticity and autonomic dysreflexia in response to noxious stimuli.
PMCID: PMC2953609  PMID: 20514053
blood pressure; hypertension; pain; spasms; hyper-reflexia; Neurontin; spinal reflex
3.  Segmental organization of spinal reflexes mediating autonomic dysreflexia after spinal cord injury 
Progress in brain research  2006;152:265-274.
Spinal cord injuries above mid-thoracic levels can lead to a potentially life-threatening hypertensive condition termed autonomic dysreflexia that is often triggered by distension of pelvic viscera (bladder or bowel). This syndrome is characterized by episodic hypertension due to sudden, massive discharge of sympathetic preganglionic neurons in the thoracolumbar spinal cord. This hypertension is usually accompanied by bradycardia, particularly if the injury is caudal to the 2nd to 4th thoracic spinal segments. The development of autonomic dysreflexia is correlated with aberrant sprouting of peptidergic afferent fibers into the spinal cord below the injury. In particular, sprouting of nerve growth factor-responsive afferent fibers has been shown to have a major influence on dysreflexia, perhaps by amplifying the activation of disinhibited sympathetic neurons. Using a model of noxious bowel distension after complete thoracic spinal transection at the 4th thoracic segment in rats, we selectively altered C-fiber sprouting, at specified spinal levels caudal to the injury, with microinjections of adenovirus encoding the growth-promoting nerve growth factor or the growth-inhibitory semaphorin 3A. This was followed by assessment of physiological responses to colorectal distension and subsequent histology. Additionally, anterograde tract tracers were injected into the lumbosacral region to compare the extent of labeled propriospinal rostral projections in uninjured cords to those incords after complete 4th thoracic transection. In summary, over-expression of chemorepulsive semaphorin 3A impeded C-fiber sprouting in lumbosacral segments and mitigated hypertensive autonomic dysreflexia, whereas the opposite results were obtained with nerve growth factor over-expression. Furthermore, compared to naïve rats there were significantly more labeled lumbosacral propriospinal projections rostrally after thoracic injury. Collectively, our findings suggest that distension of pelvic viscera increases the excitation of expanded afferent terminals in the disinhibited lumbosacral spinal cord. This, in turn, triggers excitation and sprouting of local propriospinal neurons to relay visceral sensory stimuli and amplify the activation of sympathetic preganglionic neurons in the thoracolumbar cord, to enhance transmission in the spinal viscero-sympathetic reflex pathway. These responses are manifested as autonomic dysreflexia.
PMCID: PMC3529572  PMID: 16198706
nerve growth factor; semaphorin3A; sprouting; sympathetic; neurotrophin; propriospinal; gene therapy
4.  Vascular dysfunctions following spinal cord injury  
Journal of Medicine and Life  2010;3(3):275-285.
The aim of this article is to analyze the vascular dysfunctions occurring after spinal cord injury (SCI). Vascular dysfunctions are common complications of SCI. Cardiovascular disturbances are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in both acute and chronic stages of SCI.
Neuroanatomy and physiology of autonomic nervous system, sympathetic and parasympathetic, is reviewed. SCI implies disruption of descendent pathways from central centers to spinal sympathetic neurons, originating in intermediolateral nuclei of T1–L2 cord segments. Loss of supraspinal control over sympathetic nervous system results in reduced overall sympathetic activity below the level of injury and unopposed parasympathetic outflow through intact vagal nerve.
SCI associates significant vascular dysfunction. Spinal shock occurs during the acute phase following SCI and it is a transitory suspension of function and reflexes below the level of the injury. Neurogenic shock, part of spinal shock, consists of severe arterial hypotension and bradycardia. Autonomic dysreflexia appears during the chronic phase, after spinal shock resolution, and it is a life–threatening syndrome of massive imbalanced reflex sympathetic discharge occurring in patients with SCI above the splanchnic sympathetic outflow (T5–T6). Arterial hypotension with orthostatic hypotension occurs in both acute and chronic phases. The etiology is multifactorial. We described a few factors influencing the orthostatic hypotension occurrence in SCI: sympathetic nervous system dysfunction, low plasma catecholamine levels, rennin–angiotensin–aldosterone activity, peripheral alpha–adrenoceptor hyperresponsiveness, impaired function of baroreceptors, hyponatremia and low plasmatic volume, cardiovascular deconditioning, morphologic changes in sympathetic neurons, plasticity within spinal circuits, and motor deficit leading to loss of skeletal muscle pumping activity. Additional associated cardiovascular concerns in SCI, such as deep vein thrombosis and long–term risk for coronary heart disease and systemic atherosclerosis are also described.
Proper prophylaxis, including non–pharmacologic and pharmacological strategies, diminishes the occurrence of the vascular dysfunction following SCI. Each vascular disturbance requires a specific treatment.
PMCID: PMC3019008  PMID: 20945818
spinal shock; neurogenic shock; orthostatic hypotension; autonomic dysreflexia; deep vein thrombosis; coronary heart disease
5.  Cardiac dysfunctions following spinal cord injury 
Journal of Medicine and Life  2009;2(2):133-145.
The aim of this article is to analyze cardiac dysfunctions occurring after spinal cord injury (SCI). Cardiac dysfunctions are common complications following SCI. Cardiovascular disturbances are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in both acute and chronic stages of SCI.
We reviewed epidemiology of cardiac disturbances after SCI, and neuroanatomy and pathophysiology of autonomic nervous system, sympathetic and parasympathetic.
SCI causes disruption of descendent pathways from central control centers to spinal sympathetic neurons, originating into intermediolateral nuclei of T1–L2 spinal cord segments. Loss of supraspinal control over sympathetic nervous system results in reduced overall sympathetic activity below the level of injury and unopposed parasympathetic outflow through intact vagal nerve.
SCI associates significant cardiac dysfunction. Impairment of autonomic nervous control system, mostly in patients with cervical or high thoracic SCI, causes cardiac dysrrhythmias, especially bradycardia and, rarely, cardiac arrest, or tachyarrhytmias and hypotension. Specific complication dependent on the period of time after trauma like spinal shock and autonomic dysreflexia are also reviewed. Spinal shock occurs during the acute phase following SCI and is a transitory suspension of function and reflexes below the level of the injury. Neurogenic shock, part of spinal shock, consists of severe bradycardia and hypotension. Autonomic dysreflexia appears during the chronic phase, after spinal shock resolution, and it is a life–threatening syndrome of massive imbalanced reflex sympathetic discharge occurring in patients with SCI above the splanchnic sympathetic outflow (T5–T6). Besides all this, additional cardiac complications, such as cardiac deconditioning and coronary heart disease may also occur.
Proper prophylaxis, including nonpharmacologic and pharmacological strategies and cardiac rehabilitation diminish occurrence of the cardiac dysfunction following SCI. Each type of cardiac disturbance requires specific treatment.
PMCID: PMC3018985  PMID: 20108532
spinal shock; neurogenic shock; cardiac dysrrhythmias; bradycardia; tachyarrhytmias; autonomic dysreflexia; cardiac deconditionting; coronary heart disease
6.  Effects of hip joint angle changes on intersegmental spinal coupling in human spinal cord injury 
Pathological expression of movement and muscle tone in human upper motor neuron disorders has been partly associated with impaired modulation of spinal inhibitory mechanisms, such as reciprocal or presynaptic inhibition. In addition, input from specific afferent systems contributes significantly to spinal reflex circuits coupled with posture or locomotion. Accordingly, the objectives of this study were to identify the involved afferents and their relative contribution to soleus H-reflex modulation induced by changes in hip position, and to relate these effects with activity of spinal interneuronal circuits. Specifically, we investigated the actions of group I synergistic and antagonistic muscle afferents (e.g. common peroneal nerve, CPN; medial gastrocnemius, MG) and tactile plantar cutaneous afferents on the soleus H-reflex during controlled hip angle variations in 11 motor incomplete spinal cord injured (SCI) subjects. It has been postulated in healthy subjects that CPN stimulation evokes an inhibition on the soleus H-reflex at a conditioning test (C-T) interval of 2–4 ms. This short latency reflex depression is caused mainly by activation of the reciprocal Ia inhibitory pathway. At longer C-T intervals (beyond 30 ms) the soleus H-reflex is again depressed, and is generally accepted to be caused by presynaptic inhibition of soleus Ia afferents. Similarly, MG nerve stimulation depresses soleus H-reflex excitability at the C-T interval of 6 ms, involving the pathway of non-reciprocal group I inhibition, while excitation of plantar cutaneous afferents affects the activity of spinal reflex pathways in the extensors. In this study, soleus H-reflexes recorded alone or during CPN stimulation at either short (2, 3, 4 ms) or long (80, 100, 120 ms) C-T intervals, and MG nerve stimulation delivered at 6 ms were elicited via conventional methods and similar to those adopted in studies conducted in healthy subjects. Plantar skin conditioning stimulation was delivered through two surface electrodes placed on the metatarsals at different C-T intervals ranging from 3 to 90 ms. CPN stimulation at either short or long C-T intervals and MG nerve stimulation resulted in a significant facilitation of the soleus H-reflex, regardless of the hip angle tested. Plantar skin stimulation delivered with hip extended at 10° induced a bimodal facilitation reflex pattern, while with hip flexed (10°, 30°) the reflex facilitation increased with increments in the C-T interval. This study provides evidence that in human chronic SCI, classically key inhibitory reflex actions are switched to facilitatory, and that spinal processing of plantar cutaneous sensory input and actions of synergistic/antagonistic muscle afferents interact with hip proprioceptive input to facilitate soleus H-reflex excitability. These actions might be associated with the pathological expression of neural control of movement in individuals with SCI, and potentially could be considered in rehabilitation programs geared to restore sensorimotor function in these patients.
PMCID: PMC1351079  PMID: 16059682
H-reflex; Hip; Cutaneous afferents; Postsynaptic/presynaptic inhibition; Rehabilitation
7.  Plasticity of lumbosacral propriospinal neurons is associated with the development of autonomic dysreflexia after thoracic spinal cord transection 
Complete thoracic (T) spinal cord injury (SCI) above the T6 level typically results in autonomic dysreflexia, an abnormal hypertensive condition commonly triggered by nociceptive stimuli below the level of SCI. Over-expression of nerve growth factor in the lumbosacral spinal cord induces profuse sprouting of nociceptive pelvic visceral afferent fibers that correlates with increased hypertension in response to noxious colorectal distension. After complete T4 SCI, we evaluated the plasticity of propriospinal neurons conveying visceral input rostrally to thoracic sympathetic preganglionic neurons. The anterograde tracer biotinylated dextran amine (BDA) was injected into the lumbosacral dorsal gray commissure (DGC) of injured/non-transected rats immediately after injury (acute) or 2 weeks later (delayed). At 1 or 2 weeks after delayed or acute injections, respectively, a higher density (p<0.05) of BDA+ fibers was found in thoracic dorsal gray matter of injured versus non-transected spinal cords. For corroboration, fast blue (FB) or cholera toxin subunit beta (CTb) was injected into the T9 dorsal horns 2 weeks post-injury/non-transection. After 1 week transport, more retrogradely-labeled (p<0.05) DGC propriospinal neurons (T13-S1) were quantified in injured versus non-transected cords. We also monitored immediate early gene, c-fos, expression following colorectal distension and found increased (p<0.01) c-Fos+ cell numbers throughout the DGC after injury. Collectively, these results imply that, in conjunction with local primary afferent fiber plasticity, injury-induced sprouting of DGC neurons may be a key constituent in relaying visceral sensory input to sympathetic preganglionic neurons that elicit autonomic dysreflexia after high thoracic SCI.
PMCID: PMC2536612  PMID: 18512692
dorsal gray commissure; dorsal commissural nucleus; neuronal tracers; c-Fos; hypertension; stereology; colorectal distension
8.  Assessment of autonomic dysreflexia in patients with spinal cord injury. 
OBJECTIVES AND METHODS: To assess the impairment of supraspinal control over spinal sympathetic centres and the occurrence of autonomic dysreflexia in patients with spinal cord injury. Autonomic dysreflexia is caused by the disconnection of spinal sympathetic centres from supraspinal control and is characterised by paroxysmal hypertensive episodes caused by non-specific stimuli below the level of the lesion. Therefore, patients with spinal cord injury were examined clinically and by different techniques to assess the occurrence of autonomic dysreflexia and to relate disturbances of the sympathetic nervous system to episodes of autonomic dysreflexia. RESULTS: None of the paraplegic patients, but 59% (13/22) of tetraplegic patients (91% of the complete, 27% of the incomplete patients) presented signs of autonomic dysreflexia during urodynamic examination. Only 62% of the tetraplegic patients complained about symptoms of autonomic dysreflexia. Pathological sympathetic skin responses (SSRs) of the hands were related to signs of autonomic dysreflexia in 93% of cases. No patient with preserved SSR potentials of the hands and feet showed signs of autonomic dysreflexia, either clinically or during urodynamic examination. Ambulatory blood pressure measurements (ABPMs) indicated a loss of circadian blood pressure rhythm (sympathetic control) but preserved heart rate rhythm (parasympathetic regulation) only in patients with complete tetraplegia. Pathological ABPM recordings were seen in 70% of patients with symptoms of autonomic dysreflexia. CONCLUSIONS: The urodynamic examination was more sensitive in indicating signs of autonomic dysreflexia in patients with spinal cord injury, whereas SSR allowed the assessment of the degree of disconnection of the sympathetic spinal centres from supraspinal control. Using ABPM recordings the occurrence of episodes of autonomic dysreflexia over 24 hours and the effectiveness of therapeutical treatment can be assessed.
PMCID: PMC486854  PMID: 9153603
9.  Intraspinal sprouting of unmyelinated pelvic afferents after complete spinal cord injury is correlated with autonomic dysreflexia induced by visceral pain 
Neuroscience  2008;159(1):369-379.
Autonomic dysreflexia is a potentially life-threatening hypertensive syndrome following high thoracic (T) spinal cord injury (SCI). It is commonly triggered by noxious pelvic stimuli below the injury site that correlates with increased sprouting of primary afferent C-fibers into the lumbosacral spinal cord. We have recently demonstrated that injury-induced plasticity of lumbosacral propriospinal neurons, which relay pelvic visceral sensations to thoracolumbar sympathetic preganglionic neurons, is also correlated with the development of this syndrome. To determine the phenotype of pelvic afferent fiber sprouts after SCI, cholera toxin subunit beta (CTb) was injected into the distal colon 2 weeks post T4 transection/sham to label colonic visceral afferents. After 1 week transport, the lumbosacral spinal cords were cryosectioned and immunohistochemically stained for CTb, the nociceptive-specific marker calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), and the myelinated fiber marker RT97. Quantitative analysis showed that the density of CGRP+ afferent fibers was significantly increased in the L6/S1 dorsal horns of T4-transected versus sham rats, whereas RT97+ afferent fiber density showed no change. Importantly, CTb-labeled pelvic afferent fibers were co-localized with CGRP+ fibers, but not with RT97+ fibers. These results suggest that the sprouting of unmyelinated nociceptive pelvic afferents following high thoracic SCI, but not myelinated fibers, contributes to hypertensive autonomic dysreflexia induced by pelvic visceral pain.
PMCID: PMC3546483  PMID: 19146928
distal colon; cholera toxin subunit beta; pelvic primary afferent; neuronal plasticity
10.  Genetic manipulation of intraspinal plasticity after spinal cord injury alters the severity of autonomic dysreflexia 
Severe spinal cord injuries above mid-thoracic levels can lead to a potentially life-threatening hypertensive condition termed autonomic dysreflexia that is often triggered by painful distension of pelvic viscera (bladder or bowel) and consequent sensory fiber activation, including nociceptive C-fibers. Interruption of tonically active medullo-spinal pathways after injury causes disinhibition of thoracolumbar sympathetic preganglionic neurons, and intraspinal sprouting of nerve growth factor (NGF)-responsive primary afferent fibers is thought to contribute to their hyperactivity. We investigated spinal levels that are critical for eliciting autonomic dysreflexia using a model of noxious colorectal distension (CRD) after complete spinal transection at the 4th thoracic segment in rats. Post-traumatic sprouting of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP)-immunoreactive primary afferent fibers was selectively altered at specific spinal levels caudal to the injury with bilateral microinjections of adenovirus encoding the growth-promoting NGF or growth-inhibitory semaphorin 3A (Sema3a) compared to control green fluorescent protein (GFP). Two weeks later, cardio-physiological responses to CRD were assessed among treatment groups prior to histological analysis of afferent fiber density at the injection sites. Dysreflexic hypertension was significantly higher with NGF over-expression in lumboscral segments compared to GFP, whereas similar over-expression of Sema3a significantly reduced noxious CRD-evoked hypertension. Quantitative analysis of CGRP immunostaining in the spinal dorsal horns showed a significant correlation between the extent of fiber sprouting into the spinal segments injected and the severity of autonomic dysreflexia. These results demonstrate that site-directed genetic manipulation of axon guidance molecules after complete spinal cord injury can alter endogenous circuitry in order to modulate plasticity-induced autonomic pathophysiology.
PMCID: PMC3535471  PMID: 16540569
nerve growth factor; semaphorin 3A; sprouting; sympathetic; neurotrophin
11.  Autonomic Dysreflexia Causes Chronic Immune Suppression after Spinal Cord Injury 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2013;33(32):12970-12981.
Autonomic dysreflexia (AD), a potentially dangerous complication of high-level spinal cord injury (SCI) characterized by exaggerated activation of spinal autonomic (sympathetic) reflexes, can cause pulmonary embolism, stroke, and, in severe cases, death. People with high-level SCI also are immune compromised, rendering them more susceptible to infectious morbidity and mortality. The mechanisms underlying postinjury immune suppression are not known. Data presented herein indicate that AD causes immune suppression. Using in vivo telemetry, we show that AD develops spontaneously in SCI mice with the frequency of dysreflexic episodes increasing as a function of time postinjury. As the frequency of AD increases, there is a corresponding increase in splenic leucopenia and immune suppression. Experimental activation of spinal sympathetic reflexes in SCI mice (e.g., via colorectal distension) elicits AD and exacerbates immune suppression via a mechanism that involves aberrant accumulation of norepinephrine and glucocorticoids. Reversal of postinjury immune suppression in SCI mice can be achieved by pharmacological inhibition of receptors for norepinephrine and glucocorticoids during the onset and progression of AD. In a human subject with C5 SCI, stimulating the micturition reflex caused AD with exaggerated catecholamine release and impaired immune function, thus confirming the relevance of the mouse data. These data implicate AD as a cause of secondary immune deficiency after SCI and reveal novel therapeutic targets for overcoming infectious complications that arise due to deficits in immune function.
PMCID: PMC3735880  PMID: 23926252
12.  Infiltrating Blood-Derived Macrophages Are Vital Cells Playing an Anti-inflammatory Role in Recovery from Spinal Cord Injury in Mice 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(7):e1000113.
Using a mouse model of spinal injury, Michal Schwartz and colleagues tested the effect of macrophages on the recovery process and demonstrate an important anti-inflammatory role for a subset of infiltrating monocyte-derived macrophages that is dependent upon their expression of interleukin 10.
Although macrophages (MΦ) are known as essential players in wound healing, their contribution to recovery from spinal cord injury (SCI) is a subject of debate. The difficulties in distinguishing between different MΦ subpopulations at the lesion site have further contributed to the controversy and led to the common view of MΦ as functionally homogenous. Given the massive accumulation in the injured spinal cord of activated resident microglia, which are the native immune occupants of the central nervous system (CNS), the recruitment of additional infiltrating monocytes from the peripheral blood seems puzzling. A key question that remains is whether the infiltrating monocyte-derived MΦ contribute to repair, or represent an unavoidable detrimental response. The hypothesis of the current study is that a specific population of infiltrating monocyte-derived MΦ is functionally distinct from the inflammatory resident microglia and is essential for recovery from SCI.
Methods and Findings
We inflicted SCI in adult mice, and tested the effect of infiltrating monocyte-derived MΦ on the recovery process. Adoptive transfer experiments and bone marrow chimeras were used to functionally distinguish between the resident microglia and the infiltrating monocyte-derived MΦ. We followed the infiltration of the monocyte-derived MΦ to the injured site and characterized their spatial distribution and phenotype. Increasing the naïve monocyte pool by either adoptive transfer or CNS-specific vaccination resulted in a higher number of spontaneously recruited cells and improved recovery. Selective ablation of infiltrating monocyte-derived MΦ following SCI while sparing the resident microglia, using either antibody-mediated depletion or conditional ablation by diphtheria toxin, impaired recovery. Reconstitution of the peripheral blood with monocytes resistant to ablation restored the lost motor functions. Importantly, the infiltrating monocyte-derived MΦ displayed a local anti-inflammatory beneficial role, which was critically dependent upon their expression of interleukin 10.
The results of this study attribute a novel anti-inflammatory role to a unique subset of infiltrating monocyte-derived MΦ in SCI recovery, which cannot be provided by the activated resident microglia. According to our results, limited recovery following SCI can be attributed in part to the inadequate, untimely, spontaneous recruitment of monocytes. This process is amenable to boosting either by active vaccination with a myelin-derived altered peptide ligand, which indicates involvement of adaptive immunity in monocyte recruitment, or by augmenting the naïve monocyte pool in the peripheral blood. Thus, our study sheds new light on the long-held debate regarding the contribution of MΦ to recovery from CNS injuries, and has potentially far-reaching therapeutic implications.
Please see later in the article for Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Every year, spinal cord injuries paralyze about 11,000 people in the US. The spinal cord, which contains bundles of nervous system cells called neurons, is the communication highway between the brain and the body. Messages from the brain travel down the spinal cord to control movement, breathing and other bodily functions; messages from the skin and other sensory organs travel up the spinal cord to keep the brain informed about the body. The bones of the spine normally protect the spinal cord but, if these are broken or displaced, the spinal cord can be cut or compressed, which interrupts the information flow. Damage near the top of the spinal cord paralyzes the arms and legs (tetraplegia); damage lower down paralyzes the legs only (paraplegia). Spinal cord injuries also cause other medical problems, including the loss of bladder and bowel control. Currently, there is no effective treatment for spinal cord injuries, which usually cause permanent disability because the damaged nerve fibers rarely regrow.
Why Was This Study Done?
After a spinal cord injury, immune system cells called macrophages accumulate at the injury site. Some of these macrophages—so-called monocyte-derived macrophages—come into (infiltrate) the spinal cord from the blood in response to the injury, whereas others—microglia—are always in the nervous system. Although macrophages are essential for wound healing in other parts of the body, it is unclear whether they have good or bad effects in the spinal cord. Many experts believe that immune system cells hinder healing in the spinal cord and should be suppressed or eliminated, but other scientists claim that macrophages secrete factors that stimulate nerve regrowth. Furthermore, although some macrophages elsewhere in the body have proinflammatory (potentially deleterious) effects, others have anti-inflammatory (beneficial) effects. So do the infiltrating monocyte-derived macrophages and the resident microglia (which are proinflammatory) have different functions at spinal cord injury sites? In this study, the researchers try to answer this important question.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers bruised a small section of the spinal cord of adult mice and then investigated the effect of infiltrating monocyte-derived macrophages on the recovery process. Monocyte-derived macrophages and microglia cannot be distinguished using standard staining techniques so to study their behavior after spinal cord injury the researchers introduced labeled monocyte-derived macrophages into their experimental animals by using adoptive transfer (injection of genetically labeled monocytes into the animals) or by making bone marrow chimeras. In this second technique, the animals' monocyte-derived macrophages (but not their microglia) were killed by irradiating the animals before injection of genetically labeled bone marrow, the source of monocytes. Using these approaches, the researchers found that monocyte-derived macrophages collected at the margins of spinal cord injury sites whereas microglia accumulated throughout the sites. When the pool of monocyte-derived macrophages in the mice was increased by adoptive transfer or by using a technique called “CNS-specific vaccination,” more monocyte-derived macrophages infiltrated the injury site and the animals' physical recovery from injury improved. Conversely, removal of the infiltrating monocyte-derived macrophages from the injury site reduced the animals' physical recovery. Other experiments indicated that the infiltrating monocyte-derived macrophages have a beneficial, local anti-inflammatory effect that is dependent on their expression of interleukin-10 (an anti-inflammatory signaling molecule).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings provide new information about the contribution of monocyte-derived macrophages to spontaneous recovery from spinal cord injury, a contribution that has long been debated. In particular, the findings suggest that this subset of macrophages (but not the resident microglia) has a beneficial effect on spinal cord injuries that is mediated by their production of the anti-inflammatory molecule interleukin-10. The findings also show that the effect of these monocyte-derived macrophages can be boosted, at least in mice. Although results obtained in experiments done in animals do not always accurately reflect what happens in people, this new understanding of the different functions of microglia and infiltrating monocyte-derived macrophages after injury to the spinal cord may eventually lead to the development of better treatments for spinal cord injuries.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The MedlinePlus encyclopedia provides information about spinal cord injuries (in English and Spanish)
The US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides detailed information about spinal cord injury, including information on current research into the problem (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus provides an interactive tutorial on spinal cord injury and a list of links to additional information (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC2707628  PMID: 19636355
13.  Modulation of flexion reflex induced by hip angle changes in human spinal cord injury 
The flexion reflex can be elicited via stimulation of skin, muscle, and high-threshold afferents inducing a generalized flexion of the limb. In spinalized animal models this reflex is quite prominent and is strongly modulated by actions of hip proprioceptors. However, analogous actions on the flexion reflex in spinal cord injured (SCI) humans have not yet been examined. In this study, we investigated the effects of imposed static hip angle changes on the flexion reflex in ten motor incomplete SCI subjects when input from plantar cutaneous mechanoreceptors was also present. Flexion reflexes were elicited by low-intensity stimulation of the sural nerve at the lateral malleolus, and were recorded from the ipsilateral tibialis anterior (TA) muscle. Plantar skin stimulation was delivered through two surface electrodes placed on the metatarsals, and was initiated at different delays ranging from 3 to 90 ms. We found that non-noxious sural nerve stimulation induced two types of flexion reflexes in the TA muscle, an early, and a late response. The first was observed only in three subjects and even in these subjects, it appeared irregularly. In contrast, the second (late) flexion reflex was present uniformly in all ten subjects and was significantly modulated during hip angle changes. Flexion reflexes recorded with hip positioned at different angles were compared to the associated control reflexes recorded with hip flexed at 10°. Hip flexion (30°, 40°) depressed the late flexion reflex, while no significant effects were observed with the hip set in neutral angle (0°). Strong facilitatory effects on the late flexion reflex were observed with the hip extended to 10°. Moreover, the effects of plantar skin stimulation on the flexion reflex were also found to depend on the hip angle. The results suggest that hip proprioceptors and plantar cutaneous mechanoreceptors strongly modulate flexion reflex pathways in chronic human SCI, verifying that this type of sensory afferent feedback interact with spinal interneuronal circuits that have been considered as forerunners of stepping and locomotion. The sensory consequences of this afferent input should be considered in rehabilitation programs aimed to restore movement and sensorimotor function in these patients.
PMCID: PMC1361117  PMID: 16177832
Cutaneous afferents; Flexion reflex; Hip proprioceptors; Rehabilitation; Sensorimotor integration
14.  Plasticity of Urinary Bladder Reflexes Evoked by Stimulation of Pudendal Afferent Nerves after Chronic Spinal Cord Injury in Cats 
Experimental neurology  2010;228(1):109-117.
Bladder reflexes evoked by stimulation of pudendal afferent nerves (PudA-to-Bladder reflex) were studied in normal and chronic spinal cord injured (SCI) adult cats to examine the reflex plasticity. Physiological activation of pudendal afferent nerves by tactile stimulation of the perigenital skin elicits an inhibitory PudA-to-Bladder reflex in normal cats, but activates an excitatory reflex in chronic SCI cats. However, in both normal and chronic SCI cats electrical stimulation applied to the perigenital skin or directly to the pudendal nerve induces either inhibitory or excitatory PudA-to-Bladder reflexes depending on stimulation frequency. An inhibitory response occurs at 3–10 Hz stimulation, but becomes excitatory at 20–30 Hz. The inhibitory reflex activated by electrical stimulation significantly (P<0.05) increases the bladder capacity to about 180% of control capacity in normal and chronic SCI cats. The excitatory reflex significantly (P<0.05) reduces bladder capacity to about 40% of control capacity in chronic SCI cats, but does not change bladder capacity in normal cats. Electrical stimulation of pudendal afferent nerves during slow bladder filling elicits a large amplitude bladder contraction comparable to the contraction induced by distension alone. A bladder volume about 60% of bladder capacity was required to elicit this excitatory reflex in normal cats; however, in chronic SCI cats a volume less than 20% of bladder capacity was sufficient to unmask an excitatory response. This study revealed the co-existence of both inhibitory and excitatory PudA-to-Bladder reflex pathways in cats before and after chronic SCI. However our data combined with published electrophysiological data strongly indicates that the spinal circuitry for both the excitatory and inhibitory PudA-to-Bladder reflexes undergoes a marked reorganization after SCI.
PMCID: PMC3040257  PMID: 21192927
urinary bladder; spinal cord injury; plasticity; cat; electrical stimulation
15.  Plasticity of TRPV1-Expressing Sensory Neurons Mediating Autonomic Dysreflexia Following Spinal Cord Injury 
Spinal cord injury (SCI) triggers profound changes in visceral and somatic targets of sensory neurons below the level of injury. Despite this, little is known about the influence of injury to the spinal cord on sensory ganglia. One of the defining characteristics of sensory neurons is the size of their cell body: for example, nociceptors are smaller in size than mechanoreceptors or proprioceptors. In these experiments, we first used a comprehensive immunohistochemical approach to characterize the size distribution of sensory neurons after high- and low-thoracic SCI. Male Wistar rats (300 g) received a spinal cord transection (T3 or T10) or sham-injury. At 30 days post-injury, dorsal root ganglia (DRGs) and spinal cords were harvested and analyzed immunohistochemically. In a wide survey of primary afferents, only those expressing the capsaicin receptor (TRPV1) exhibited somal hypertrophy after T3 SCI. Hypertrophy only occurred caudal to SCI and was pronounced in ganglia far distal to SCI (i.e., in L4-S1 DRGs). Injury-induced hypertrophy was accompanied by a small expansion of central territory in the lumbar spinal dorsal horn and by evidence of TRPV1 upregulation. Importantly, hypertrophy of TRPV1-positive neurons was modest after T10 SCI. Given the specific effects of T3 SCI on TRPV1-positive afferents, we hypothesized that these afferents contribute to autonomic dysreflexia (AD). Rats with T3 SCI received vehicle or capsaicin via intrathecal injection at 2 or 28 days post-SCI; at 30 days, AD was assessed by recording intra-arterial blood pressure during colo-rectal distension (CRD). In both groups of capsaicin-treated animals, the severity of AD was dramatically reduced. While AD is multi-factorial in origin, TRPV1-positive afferents are clearly involved in AD elicited by CRD. These findings implicate TRPV1-positive afferents in the initiation of AD and suggest that TRPV1 may be a therapeutic target for amelioration or prevention of AD after high SCI.
PMCID: PMC3429033  PMID: 22934013
capsaicin; colo-rectal distension; dorsal horn; dorsal root; dorsal root ganglion; high blood pressure; hypertension; hypertrophy
16.  Cardiovascular Responses to Vibrostimulation for Sperm Retrieval in Men With Spinal Cord Injury 
Cardiovascular abnormalities and arrhythmias are common in individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI) who are undergoing vibrostimulation for sperm retrieval. The study aimed to examine cardiovascular control in men with SCI undergoing this procedure.
Individuals with chronic cervical (n = 8; age: 33.1 ± 1.9 years) and upper thoracic SCI (n = 5; age: 35.2 ± 2.9 years) volunteered for vibrostimulation, with continuous blood pressure (Finometer) and electrocardiographic monitoring. Patients were characterized further by sympathetic skin responses (SSR) to assess descending autonomic spinal pathways and American Spinal Injury Association (ASIA) scores to assess motor and sensory pathways.
All but one subject with cervical SCI were ASIA A or B and were negative for SSR in the hands and feet. All subjects with upper thoracic SCI were ASIA A or B and were positive for SSR in the hands. Systolic blood pressure was lower in men with cervical injury at rest. Vibrostimulation induced an increase in systolic blood pressure >20 mmHg in all patients with cervical SCI (range = 125/65–280/152; median = 167/143 mmHg) and in 2 thoracic subjects (151/104 and 170/121 mmHg). During ejaculation, 6 cervical and 3 thoracic subjects developed arrhythmias (5 with bradycardia, 6 with premature atrial contractions, 4 with ventricular excitation, 1 with junctional rhythm, and 1 with heart block).
The vibrostimulation procedure induced electrocardiographic abnormalities and autonomic dysreflexia in subjects with either cervical or high thoracic SCI.
PMCID: PMC1864810  PMID: 16859224
Spinal cord injuries; Arrhythmia; Autonomic dysreflexia; Sympathetic skin response; Vibrostimulation; Sperm retrieval
17.  Arterial baroreflex buffering of sympathetic activation during exercise-induced elevations in arterial pressure. 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  1990;86(6):1855-1861.
Static muscle contraction activates metabolically sensitive muscle afferents that reflexively increase sympathetic nerve activity and arterial pressure. To determine if this contraction-induced reflex is modulated by the sinoaortic baroreflex, we performed microelectrode recordings of sympathetic nerve activity to resting leg muscle during static handgrip in humans while attempting to clamp the level of baroreflex stimulation by controlling the exercise-induced rise in blood pressure with pharmacologic agents. The principal new finding is that partial pharmacologic suppression of the rise in blood pressure during static handgrip (nitroprusside infusion) augmented the exercise-induced increases in heart rate and sympathetic activity by greater than 300%. Pharmacologic accentuation of the exercise-induced rise in blood pressure (phenylephrine infusion) attenuated these reflex increases by greater than 50%. In contrast, these pharmacologic manipulations in arterial pressure had little or no effect on: (a) forearm muscle cell pH, an index of the metabolic stimulus to skeletal muscle afferents; or (b) central venous pressure, an index of the mechanical stimulus to cardiopulmonary afferents. We conclude that in humans the sinoaortic baroreflex is much more effective than previously thought in buffering the reflex sympathetic activation caused by static muscle contraction.
PMCID: PMC329818  PMID: 2254449
18.  Monoaminergic Modulation of Spinal Viscero-Sympathetic Function in the Neonatal Mouse Thoracic Spinal Cord 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e47213.
Descending serotonergic, noradrenergic, and dopaminergic systems project diffusely to sensory, motor and autonomic spinal cord regions. Using neonatal mice, this study examined monoaminergic modulation of visceral sensory input and sympathetic preganglionic output. Whole-cell recordings from sympathetic preganglionic neurons (SPNs) in spinal cord slice demonstrated that serotonin, noradrenaline, and dopamine modulated SPN excitability. Serotonin depolarized all, while noradrenaline and dopamine depolarized most SPNs. Serotonin and noradrenaline also increased SPN current-evoked firing frequency, while both increases and decreases were seen with dopamine. In an in vitro thoracolumbar spinal cord/sympathetic chain preparation, stimulation of splanchnic nerve visceral afferents evoked reflexes and subthreshold population synaptic potentials in thoracic ventral roots that were dose-dependently depressed by the monoamines. Visceral afferent stimulation also evoked bicuculline-sensitive dorsal root potentials thought to reflect presynaptic inhibition via primary afferent depolarization. These dorsal root potentials were likewise dose-dependently depressed by the monoamines. Concomitant monoaminergic depression of population afferent synaptic transmission recorded as dorsal horn field potentials was also seen. Collectively, serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine were shown to exert broad and comparable modulatory regulation of viscero-sympathetic function. The general facilitation of SPN efferent excitability with simultaneous depression of visceral afferent-evoked motor output suggests that descending monoaminergic systems reconfigure spinal cord autonomic function away from visceral sensory influence. Coincident monoaminergic reductions in dorsal horn responses support a multifaceted modulatory shift in the encoding of spinal visceral afferent activity. Similar monoamine-induced changes have been observed for somatic sensorimotor function, suggesting an integrative modulatory response on spinal autonomic and somatic function.
PMCID: PMC3489886  PMID: 23144807
19.  Acute complications of spinal cord injuries 
World Journal of Orthopedics  2015;6(1):17-23.
The aim of this paper is to give an overview of acute complications of spinal cord injury (SCI). Along with motor and sensory deficits, instabilities of the cardiovascular, thermoregulatory and broncho-pulmonary system are common after a SCI. Disturbances of the urinary and gastrointestinal systems are typical as well as sexual dysfunction. Frequent complications of cervical and high thoracic SCI are neurogenic shock, bradyarrhythmias, hypotension, ectopic beats, abnormal temperature control and disturbance of sweating, vasodilatation and autonomic dysreflexia. Autonomic dysreflexia is an abrupt, uncontrolled sympathetic response, elicited by stimuli below the level of injury. The symptoms may be mild like skin rash or slight headache, but can cause severe hypertension, cerebral haemorrhage and death. All personnel caring for the patient should be able to recognize the symptoms and be able to intervene promptly. Disturbance of respiratory function are frequent in tetraplegia and a primary cause of both short and long-term morbidity and mortality is pulmonary complications. Due to physical inactivity and altered haemostasis, patients with SCI have a higher risk of venous thromboembolism and pressure ulcers. Spasticity and pain are frequent complications which need to be addressed. The psychological stress associated with SCI may lead to anxiety and depression. Knowledge of possible complications during the acute phase is important because they may be life threatening and/ or may lead to prolonged rehabilitation.
PMCID: PMC4303786  PMID: 25621207
Spinal cord injuries; Autonomic dysreflexia; Cardiovascular disease; Orthostatic hypotension; Bradycardia; Thromboembolism; Respiratory insufficiency
20.  Voiding Reflex in Chronic Spinal Cord Injured Cats Induced by Stimulating and Blocking Pudendal Nerves 
To induce efficient voiding in chronic spinal-cord-injured (SCI) cats.
Voiding reflexes induced by bladder distension or by electrical stimulation and block of pudendal nerves were investigated in chronic SCI cats under α-chloralose anesthesia.
The voiding efficiency in chronic SCI cats induced by bladder distension was very poor compared to that in spinal intact cats (7.3±0.9% vs. 93.6±2.0%, P<0.05). In chronic SCI cats continuous stimulation of the pudendal nerve on one side at 20 Hz induced large amplitude bladder contractions, but failed to induce voiding. However, continuous pudendal nerve stimulation (20 Hz) combined with high-frequency (10 kHz) distal blockade of the ipsilateral pudendal nerve elicited efficient (73.2±10.7%) voiding. Blocking the pudendal nerves bilaterally produced voiding efficiency (82.5±4.8%) comparable to the efficiency during voidings induced by bladder distension in spinal intact cats, indicating that the external urethral sphincter (EUS) contraction was caused not only by direct activation of the pudendal efferent fibers, but also by spinal reflex activation of the EUS through the contralateral pudendal nerve. The maximal bladder pressure and average flow rate induced by stimulation and bilateral pudendal nerve block in chronic SCI cats were also comparable to those in spinal intact cats.
This study shows that after the spinal cord is chronically isolated from the pontine micturition center, bladder distension evokes a transient, inefficient voiding reflex, whereas stimulation of somatic afferent fibers evokes a strong, long duration, spinal bladder reflex that elicits efficient voiding when combined with blockade of somatic efferent fibers in the pudendal nerves.
PMCID: PMC2821079  PMID: 17563108
spinal cord injury; cat; voiding; pudendal nerve; stimulation; block
21.  Leg sympathetic response to noxious skin stimuli is similar in high and low level human spinal cord injury 
To determine if sympathetically mediated vasoconstriction in the lower extremities is injury-level dependent. Although sympathetic responses have been measured in the limbs of people with high and low level SCI using blood flow measurements, including Doppler ultrasound and venous plethysmography, a direct comparison between injury levels has not been made.
Volunteers with chronic SCI were grouped according to injury level. Above T6: high level (HL, n=7), and T6 and below: low level (LL, n=6). All subjects had complete motor and sensory loss. Leg arterial flows were recorded by venous occlusion plethysmography, and continuous heart rate and mean arterial pressure (MAP) were measured. The conditioning stimulus consisted of transcutaneous stimulation to the arch of the contralateral foot.
HL and LL subjects demonstrated a significant decrease in arterial conductance during stimulation with no significant difference found between groups. As expected, only group HL demonstrated a significant increase in MAP.
These results support our hypothesis that local (leg) sympathetic responses are similar for both high and low level SCI.
While low level SCI does not typically present with autonomic dysreflexia, bouts of increased reflex sympathetic activity could have ramifications for metabolism as well as renal and motor system function.
PMCID: PMC2267914  PMID: 18055258
Vasoconstriction; conductance; blood pressure; autonomic dysreflexia
22.  Incidence of Autonomic Dysreflexia and Silent Autonomic Dysreflexia in Men With Spinal Cord Injury Undergoing Sperm Retrieval: Implications for Clinical Practice 
To determine the incidence of symptomatic autonomic dysreflexia (AD) and asymptomatic autonomic dysreflexia (silent AD) in men with spinal cord injury (SCI) undergoing sperm retrieval procedures.
Descriptive study.
Thirteen men underwent cardiovascular monitoring during vibrostimulation (or self-stimulation) to the point of ejaculation. Cardiovascular results were compared with objective and subjective signs of AD to determine the incidence of symptomatic and silent AD. Past history and knowledge of AD were correlated to participants' experience of AD in the clinical setting.
Outcome Measures:
Change in diastolic and systolic blood pressure is the primary outcome data that will be compared to AD history and data from each participant's questionnaire.
Twelve of the 13 men experienced a rise in blood pressure consistent with AD (defined as an increase in blood pressure > 20 mmHg). Men with incomplete tetraplegia were able to identify symptoms associated with AD, and those with complete tetraplegia did not experience symptoms. Eleven of the 13 men knew that sexual activity could cause AD; however, only 2 of the 13 men acknowledged a history of AD with sexual activity and/or ejaculation.
Symptomatic and silent AD occur frequently during sperm retrieval in men with SCI above T6. Knowledge and past history of AD are not accurate indicators of who will experience AD with sexual activity and/or ejaculation.
PMCID: PMC2435024  PMID: 18533409
Autonomic dysreflexia; Sexuality; Spinal cord injuries; Tetraplegia; Infertility; Blood pressure; Ejaculation; Sperm retrieval
23.  Electrophysiological Analysis of the Mechanism of Autonomic Action by Lactobacilli 
Bioscience and Microflora  2011;30(4):99-109.
Autonomic nerves, consisting of both sympathetic and parasympathetic nerves, regulate various bodily functions such as blood pressure, body temperature, glucose metabolism, energy metabolism, and digestion. Our studies in rats and mice have demonstrated that food, flavor, and music affect physiological phenomena via changes in autonomic neurotransmissions. Intestinal injection of Lactobacillus johnsonii La1 (NCC533) suppressed sympathetic nerves that innervate the adrenal gland and kidney of urethane-anesthetized rats, lowering blood glucose and blood pressure levels, and excited the gastric parasympathetic nerve, elevating appetite and body weight. In contrast, intestinal injection of Lactobacillus paracasei ST11 (NCC2461) excited sympathetic nerves that innervate white and brown fat and the adrenal gland, increasing lipolysis and body temperature, and suppressed the gastric parasympathetic nerve, reducing appetite and body weight. Interestingly, we found that the hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN), a master circadian clock, and histamine receptors in histaminergic neurons play important roles in peripheral autonomic control. To investigate the possible role of SCN and histamine receptors in lactobacilli-mediated pathology, we created an SCN-lesion model and experimented with histaminergic blocker injections. SCN lesion or injection of thioperamide, a histamine H3-receptor antagonist, eliminated the suppression of renal sympathetic nerve activity by NCC533, preventing blood pressure decline, and inhibited the enhancement of the gastric parasympathetic nerve induced by NCC533. In addition, diphenhydramine, a histamine H1-receptor antagonist, abolished the increases in renal sympathetic nerve activity and blood pressure caused by NCC2461. Infradiaphragmatic vagotomy eliminated the suppression of renal sympathetic nerve activity by NCC533, but did not affect the excitation of the renal sympathetic nerve by NCC2461. Collectively, these findings strongly suggest that SCN and histamine neurons are involved in the lactobacilli-mediated pathology of autonomic nerves and related physiological changes through abdominal afferent vagal pathway input to the central nervous system.
PMCID: PMC4103637  PMID: 25045315
sympathetic nerve; parasympathetic nerve; histaminergic nerve; lactobacilli; rats; afferent vagal nerve; dietary obesity; thermogenesis
24.  The physiological basis of neurorehabilitation - locomotor training after spinal cord injury 
Advances in our understanding of the physiological basis of locomotion enable us to optimize the neurorehabilitation of patients with lesions to the central nervous system, such as stroke or spinal cord injury (SCI). It is generally accepted, based on work in animal models, that spinal neuronal machinery can produce a stepping-like output. In both incomplete and complete SCI subjects spinal locomotor circuitries can be activated by functional training which provides appropriate afferent feedback. In motor complete SCI subjects, however, motor functions caudal to the spinal cord lesion are no longer used resulting in neuronal dysfunction. In contrast, in subjects with an incomplete SCI such training paradigms can lead to improved locomotor ability. Appropriate functional training involves the facilitation and assistance of stepping-like movements with the subjects’ legs and body weight support as far as is required. In severely affected subjects standardized assisted locomotor training is provided by body weight supported treadmill training with leg movements either manually assisted or moved by a driven gait orthosis. Load- and hip-joint related afferent input is of crucial importance during locomotor training as it leads to appropriate leg muscle activation and thus increases the efficacy of the rehabilitative training. Successful recovery of locomotion after SCI relies on the ability of spinal locomotor circuitries to utilize specific multisensory information to generate a locomotor pattern. It seems that a critical combination of sensory cues is required to generate and improve locomotor patterns after SCI. In addition to functional locomotor training there are numbers of other promising experimental approaches, such as tonic epidural electrical or magnetic stimulation of the spinal cord, which both promote locomotor permissive states that lead to a coordinated locomotor output. Therefore, a combination of functional training and activation of spinal locomotor circuitries, for example by epidural/flexor reflex electrical stimulation or drug application (e.g. noradrenergic agonists), might constitute an effective strategy to promote neuroplasticity after SCI in the future.
PMCID: PMC3584845  PMID: 23336934
Locomotion; Neurorehabilitation; Neuronal plasticity; Spinal cord injury
25.  Effects of gabapentin on muscle spasticity and both induced as well as spontaneous autonomic dysreflexia after complete spinal cord injury 
We recently reported that the neuropathic pain medication, gabapentin (GBP; Neurontin), significantly attenuated both noxious colorectal distension (CRD)-induced autonomic dysreflexia (AD) and tail pinch-induced spasticity compared to saline-treated cohorts 2–3 weeks after complete high thoracic (T4) spinal cord injury (SCI). Here we employed long-term blood pressure telemetry to test, firstly, the efficacy of daily versus acute GBP treatment in modulating AD and tail spasticity in response to noxious stimuli at 2 and 3 weeks post-injury. Secondly, we determined whether daily GBP alters baseline cardiovascular parameters, as well as spontaneous AD events detected using a novel algorithm based on blood pressure telemetry data. At both 14 and 21 days after SCI, irrespective of daily treatment, acute GBP given 1 h prior to stimulus significantly attenuated CRD-induced AD and pinch-evoked tail spasticity; conversely, acute saline had no such effects. Moreover, daily GBP did not alter 24 h mean arterial pressure (MAP) or heart rate (HR) values compared to saline treatment, nor did it reduce the incidence of spontaneous AD events compared to saline over the three week assessment period. Power spectral density (PSD) analysis of the MAP signals demonstrated relative power losses in mid frequency ranges (0.2–0.8 Hz) for all injured animals relative to low frequency MAP power (0.02–0.08 Hz). However, there was no significant difference between groups over time post-injury; hence, GBP had no effect on the persistent loss of MAP fluctuations in the mid frequency range after injury. In summary, the mechanism(s) by which acute GBP treatment mitigate aberrant somatosensory and cardiophysiological responses to noxious stimuli after SCI remain unclear. Nevertheless, with further refinements in defining the dynamics associated with AD events, such as eliminating requisite concomitant bradycardia, the objective repeatability of automatic detection of hypertensive crises provides a potentially useful tool for assessing autonomic function pre- and post-SCI, in conjunction with experimental pharmacotherapeutics for neuropathic pain, such as GBP.
PMCID: PMC3429097  PMID: 22934077
neuropathic pain; colorectal distension; power spectral density; telemetry; blood pressure; heart rate

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