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1.  Diffusion Tensor Imaging at 3 Hours after Traumatic Spinal Cord Injury Predicts Long-Term Locomotor Recovery 
Journal of Neurotrauma  2010;27(3):587-598.
Accurate diagnosis of spinal cord injury (SCI) severity must be achieved before highly aggressive experimental therapies can be tested responsibly in the early phases after trauma. These studies demonstrate for the first time that axial diffusivity (λ||), derived from diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) within 3 h after SCI, accurately predicts long-term locomotor behavioral recovery in mice. Female C57BL/6 mice underwent sham laminectomy or graded contusive spinal cord injuries at the T9 vertebral level (5 groups, n = 8 for each group). In-vivo DTI examinations were performed immediately after SCI. Longitudinal measurements of hindlimb locomotor recovery were obtained using the Basso mouse scale (BMS). Injured and spared regions of ventrolateral white matter (VLWM) were reliably separated in the hyperacute phase by threshold segmentation. Measurements of λ|| were compared with histology in the hyperacute phase and 14 days after injury. The spared normal VLWM determined by hyperacute λ|| and 14-day histology correlated well (r = 0.95). A strong correlation between hindlimb locomotor function recovery and λ||-determined spared normal VLWM was also observed. The odds of significant locomotor recovery increased by 18% with each 1% increase in normal VLWM measured in the hyperacute phase (odds ratio = 1.18, p = 0.037). The capability of measuring subclinical changes in spinal cord physiology and murine genetic advantages offer an early window into the basic mechanisms of SCI that was not previously possible. Although significant obstacles must still be overcome to derive similar data in human patients, the path to clinical translation is foreseeable and achievable.
PMCID: PMC2867549  PMID: 20001686
axial diffusion; diffusion tensor imaging; hyperacute; magnetic resonance imaging; recovery; spinal cord injury
2.  Adaptation of a ladder beam walking task to assess locomotor recovery in mice following spinal cord injury 
Behavioural brain research  2007;177(2):232-241.
Locomotor impairments after spinal cord injury (SCI) are often assessed using open-field rating scales. These tasks have the advantage of spanning the range from complete paralysis to normal walking; however, they lack sensitivity at specific levels of recovery. Additionally, most supplemental assessments were developed in rats, not mice. For example, the horizontal ladder beam has been used to measure recovery in the rat after SCI. This parametric task results in a videotaped archival record of the event, is easily administered, and is unambiguously scored. Although a ladder beam apparatus for mice is available, its use in the assessment of recovery in SCI mice is rare, possibly because normative data for uninjured mice and the type of step misplacements injured mice exhibit is lacking. We report the development of a modified ladder beam instrument and scoring system to measure hindlimb recovery in vertebral T9 contusion spinal cord injured mice. The mouse ladder beam allows for the use of standard parametric statistical tests to assess locomotor recovery. Ladder beam performance is consistent across four strains of mice, there are no sex differences, and inter-rater reliability between observers is high. The ladder beam score is proportional to injury severity and can be used to easily separate mice capable of weight-supported stance up to mice with consistent forelimb to hindlimb coordination. Critically, horizontal ladder beam testing discriminates between mice that score identically in terms of stepping frequency in open-field testing.
PMCID: PMC1892162  PMID: 17197044
3.  Comprehensive Locomotor Outcomes Correlate to Hyperacute Diffusion Tensor Measures After Spinal Cord Injury in the Adult Rat 
Experimental Neurology  2011;235(1):188-196.
In adult rats, locomotor deficits following a contusive thoracic spinal cord injury (SCI) are caused primarily by white matter loss/dysfunction at the epicenter. This loss/dysfunction decreases descending input from the brain and cervical spinal cord, and decreases ascending signals in long propriospinal, spinocerebellar and somatosensory pathways, among many others. Predicting the long-term functional consequences of a contusive injury acutely, without knowledge of the injury severity is difficult due to the temporary flaccid paralysis and loss of reflexes that accompanies spinal shock. It is now well known that recovery of high quality hindlimb stepping requires only 12-15% spared white matter at the epicenter, but that forelimb-hindlimb coordination and precision stepping (grid or horizontal ladder) requires substantially more trans-contusion communication. In order to translate our understanding of the neural substrates for functional recovery in the rat to the clinical arena, common outcome measures and imaging modalities are required. In the current study we furthered the exploration of one of these approaches, diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging (DTI), a technique now used commonly to image the brain in clinical research but rarely used diagnostically or prognostically for spinal cord injury. In the adult rat model of SCI, we found that hyper-acute (<3 hours post-injury) DTI of the lateral and ventral white matter at the injury epicenter was predictive of both electrophysiological and behavioral (locomotor) recovery at 4 weeks post-injury, despite the presence of flaccid paralysis/spinal shock. Regions of white matter with a minimum axial diffusivity of 1.5μm2/ms at 3 hours were able to conduct action potentials at 4 weeks, and axial diffusivity within the lateral funiculus was highly predictive of locomotor function at 4 weeks. These observations suggest that acute DTI should be useful to provide functional predictions for spared white matter following contusive spinal cord injuries clinically.
PMCID: PMC3334428  PMID: 22119625
4.  Voluntary Running Attenuates Age-Related Deficits Following SCI 
Experimental neurology  2007;210(1):207-216.
Over the past few decades, the average age at time of spinal cord injury (SCI) has increased. Here we examined locomotor recovery and myelin pathology in both young and aged adult rats following contusion SCI. Our assessment indicates that the rate of locomotor recovery following SCI is significantly delayed in aged rats as compared to young rats, and is associated with a greater degree of pathology and demyelination. Additionally, we examined the effect of voluntary exercise, pre- and post-injury, on locomotor recovery and myelin pathology following contusion SCI. Our data indicate that exercise improves the locomotor recovery of injured aged rats such that it is comparable to the recovery rate of injured young rats, and is associated with a decreased area of pathology and amount of demyelination. Interestingly, the rate of locomotor recovery and myelin pathology in the aged exercised rats was similar to that of the young sedentary rats after injury, indicating that exercise attenuates the delayed recovery of function and associated histopathology in aged rats. These data indicate that there is an age-related delay in locomotor recovery following SCI, and an age-related increase in histopathology following SCI. Importantly, our data indicate that exercise attenuates these age-related deficits following SCI.
PMCID: PMC2387276  PMID: 18164294
demyelination; remyelination; spinal cord injury; aging; voluntary exercise
5.  Neurophysiological Characterization of Motor Recovery in Acute Spinal Cord Injury 
Spinal cord  2010;49(3):421-429.
Study Design
Prospective cohort study
This study was designed to neurophysiologically characterize motor control recovery after spinal cord injury (SCI).
University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.
Eleven acute SCI admissions and five non-injured subjects were recruited for this study.
The American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale (AIS) was used to categorize injury level and severity at onset. Multi-muscle surface EMG (sEMG) recording protocol of reflex and volitional motor tasks was initially performed between the day of injury and 11 days post onset (6.4 ± 3.6, mean ± SD days). Follow-up recordings were performed for up to 17 months after injury. Initial AIS distribution was: 4 AIS-A; 2 AIS-C; 5 AIS-D. Multi-muscle activation patterns were quantified from the sEMG amplitudes of selected muscles using a vector-based calculation that produces values for Magnitude and Similarity of SCI test-subject patterns to those produced by non-injured subjects.
In SCI subjects, overall sEMG amplitudes were lower after SCI. Prime mover muscle voluntary recruitment was slower and multi-muscle patterns were disrupted by SCI. Recovery occurred in 9 of the 11 showing an increase in sEMG amplitudes, more rapid prime mover muscle recruitment rates and the progressive normalization of the multi-muscle activation patterns. The rate of increase was highly individualized, differing over time by limb and proximal or distal joint within each subject and across the SCI group.
Recovery of voluntary motor function can be quantitatively tracked using neurophysiological methods in the domains of time and multi-muscle motor unit activation.
NIH NINDS funded project #NS049954-01
PMCID: PMC3444805  PMID: 21079622
Spinal Cord Injury; Motor Control; Surface Electromyography; Recovery; Voluntary motor control; motor unit recruitment
6.  Methods to Quantify Pharmacologically Induced Alterations in Motor Function in Human Incomplete SCI 
Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a debilitating disorder, which produces profound deficits in volitional motor control. Following medical stabilization, recovery from SCI typically involves long term rehabilitation. While recovery of walking ability is a primary goal in many patients early after injury, those with a motor incomplete SCI, indicating partial preservation of volitional control, may have the sufficient residual descending pathways necessary to attain this goal. However, despite physical interventions, motor impairments including weakness, and the manifestation of abnormal involuntary reflex activity, called spasticity or spasms, are thought to contribute to reduced walking recovery. Doctrinaire thought suggests that remediation of this abnormal motor reflexes associated with SCI will produce functional benefits to the patient. For example, physicians and therapists will provide specific pharmacological or physical interventions directed towards reducing spasticity or spasms, although there continues to be little empirical data suggesting that these strategies improve walking ability.
In the past few decades, accumulating data has suggested that specific neuromodulatory agents, including agents which mimic or facilitate the actions of the monoamines, including serotonin (5HT) and norepinephrine (NE), can initiate or augment walking behaviors in animal models of SCI. Interestingly, many of these agents, particularly 5HTergic agonists, can markedly increase spinal excitability, which in turn also increases reflex activity in these animals. Counterintuitive to traditional theories of recovery following human SCI, the empirical evidence from basic science experiments suggest that this reflex hyper excitability and generation of locomotor behaviors are driven in parallel by neuromodulatory inputs (5HT) and may be necessary for functional recovery following SCI.
The application of this novel concept derived from basic scientific studies to promote recovery following human SCI would appear to be seamless, although the direct translation of the findings can be extremely challenging. Specifically, in the animal models, an implanted catheter facilitates delivery of very specific 5HT agonist compounds directly onto the spinal circuitry. The translation of this technique to humans is hindered by the lack of specific surgical techniques or available pharmacological agents directed towards 5HT receptor subtypes that are safe and effective for human clinical trials. However, oral administration of commonly available 5HTergic agents, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may be a viable option to increase central 5HT concentrations in order to facilitate walking recovery in humans. Systematic quantification of how these SSRIs modulate human motor behaviors following SCI, with a specific focus on strength, reflexes, and the recovery of walking ability, are missing.
This video demonstration is a progressive attempt to systematically and quantitatively assess the modulation of reflex activity, volitional strength and ambulation following the acute oral administration of an SSRI in human SCI. Agents are applied on single days to assess the immediate effects on motor function in this patient population, with long-term studies involving repeated drug administration combined with intensive physical interventions.
PMCID: PMC3169257  PMID: 21525848
7.  Activity-Dependent Increase in Neurotrophic Factors Is Associated with an Enhanced Modulation of Spinal Reflexes after Spinal Cord Injury 
Journal of Neurotrauma  2011;28(2):299-309.
Activity-based therapies such as passive bicycling and step-training on a treadmill contribute to motor recovery after spinal cord injury (SCI), leading to a greater number of steps performed, improved gait kinematics, recovery of phase-dependent modulation of spinal reflexes, and prevention of decrease in muscle mass. Both tasks consist of alternating movements that rhythmically stretch and shorten hindlimb muscles. However, the paralyzed hindlimbs are passively moved by a motorized apparatus during bike-training, whereas locomotor movements during step-training are generated by spinal networks triggered by afferent feedback. Our objective was to compare the task-dependent effect of bike- and step-training after SCI on physiological measures of spinal cord plasticity in relation to changes in levels of neurotrophic factors. Thirty adult female Sprague-Dawley rats underwent complete spinal transection at a low thoracic level (T12). The rats were assigned to one of three groups: bike-training, step-training, or no training. The exercise regimen consisted of 15 min/d, 5 days/week, for 4 weeks, beginning 5 days after SCI. During a terminal experiment, H-reflexes were recorded from interosseus foot muscles following stimulation of the tibial nerve at 0.3, 5, or 10 Hz. The animals were sacrificed and the spinal cords were harvested for Western blot analysis of the expression of neurotrophic factors in the lumbar spinal cord. We provide evidence that bike- and step-training significantly increase the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), neurotrophin-3 (NT-3), and NT-4 in the lumbar enlargement of SCI rats, whereas only step-training increased glial cell-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) levels. An increase in neurotrophic factor protein levels that positively correlated with the recovery of H-reflex frequency-dependent depression suggests a role for neurotrophic factors in reflex normalization.
PMCID: PMC3037803  PMID: 21083432
complete transection; cycling; exercise; locomotor training; spinal cord injury
8.  Exercise therapy and recovery after SCI: evidence that shows early intervention improves recovery of function 
Spinal cord  2011;49(5):623-628.
Study design
This was designed as an experimental study.
Locomotor training is one of the most effective strategies currently available for facilitating recovery of function after an incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI). However, there is still controversy regarding the timing of treatment initiation for maximal recovery benefits. To address this issue, the present study compares the effects of exercise initiated in the acute and secondary phase of SCI.
Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA.
Rats received a moderate spinal contusion injury and began an exercise program 1 (D1-EX) or 8 days (D8-EX) later. They were individually placed into transparent exercise balls for 60 min per day, for 14 consecutive days. Control rats were placed in exercise balls that were rendered immobile. Motor and sensory recovery was assessed for 28 days after injury.
The D1-EX rats recovered significantly more locomotor function (BBB scale) than controls and D8-EX rats. Moreover, analyses revealed that rats in the D8-EX group had significantly lower tactile reactivity thresholds compared with control and D1-EX rats, and symptoms of allodynia were not reversed by exercise. Rats in the D8-EX group also had significantly larger areas of damage across spinal sections caudal to the injury center compared with the D1-EX group.
These results indicate that implementing an exercise regimen in the acute phase of SCI maximizes the potential for recovery of function.
PMCID: PMC3230555  PMID: 21242998
spinal cord injury; contusion; exercise; recovery of function; allodynia; temporal modulation
9.  Rodent Estrous Cycle Response to Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury, Surgical Interventions, and Locomotor Training 
Behavioral Neuroscience  2011;125(6):996-1002.
Estrous cycle disruption after spinal cord injury (SCI) in female rats is a common phenomenon. It remains unknown, however, if the aberrant estrous cycle is a result of an injury to the spinal cord itself or due to the general stress associated with surgical interventions. We addressed this issue by determining estrous cyclicality in female rats after a spinal cord hemisection (HX), implantation of EMG wires into selected hindlimb muscles, and/or injections of tracer dyes into the spinal cord. Since it is known that aerobic exercise can enhance the recovery of locomotor function in rodents with an incomplete SCI, we also determined if locomotor training positively impacts the disrupted estrous cycle after a HX. Estrous cycle assessments were made during a 5-8 week period in 27 female rats before and after HX, EMG, and/or dye injection surgeries and in HX rats that recovered spontaneously or underwent locomotor training. Our results show that estrous cyclicality was disrupted (cycle length >5 days) in approximately 76%, 46%, and 50% of the rats after HX, EMG, and dye injection surgeries, respectively. The cyclicality, however, was disrupted for a longer period after HX than after EMG or dye injection surgeries. Furthermore, estrous cycle mean length was shorter in the trained than non-trained HX group. These results suggest that estrous cycle disruption after a major SCI is a consequence of both the direct injury to the spinal cord and to the associated stress. Moreover, moderate aerobic exercise initiated early after a spinal cord HX returns the duration of the estrous cycle towards normal.
PMCID: PMC3361964  PMID: 22122153
spinal cord injury; surgical intervention; EMG surgery; estrous cycle; rodents
10.  Severity of Locomotor and Cardiovascular Derangements after Experimental High-Thoracic Spinal Cord Injury Is Anesthesia Dependent in Rats 
Journal of Neurotrauma  2012;29(5):990-999.
Anesthetics affect outcomes from central nervous system (CNS) injuries differently. This is the first study to show how two commonly used anesthetics affect continuously recorded hemodynamic parameters and locomotor recovery during a 2-week period after two levels of contusion spinal cord injury (SCI) in rats. We hypothesized that the level of cardiovascular depression and recovery of locomotor function would be dependent upon the anesthetic used during SCI. Thirty-two adult female rats were subjected to a sham, 25-mm or 50-mm SCI at T3–4 under pentobarbital or isoflurane anesthesia. Mean arterial pressure (MAP) and heart rate (HR) were telemetrically recorded before, during, and after SCI. Locomotor function recovered best in the 25-mm-injured isoflurane-anesthetized animals. There was no significant difference in locomotor recovery between the 25-mm-injured pentobarbital-anesthetized animals and the 50-mm-injured isoflurane-anesthetized animals. White matter sparing and extent of intermediolateral cell column loss appeared larger in animals anesthetized with pentobarbital, but this was not significant. There were no differential effects of anesthetics on HR and MAP before SCI, but recovery from anesthesia was significantly slower in pentobarbital-anesthetized animals. At the time of SCI, MAP was acutely elevated in the pentobarbital-anesthetized animals, whereas MAP decreased in the isoflurane-anesthetized animals. Hypotension occurred in the pentobarbital-anesthetized groups and in the 50-mm-injured isoflurane-anesthetized group. In pentobarbital-anesthetized animals, SCI resulted in acute elevation of HR, although HR remained low. Return of HR to baseline was much slower in the pentobarbital-anesthetized animals. Severe SCI at T3 produced significant chronic tachycardia that was injury severity dependent. Although some laboratories monitor blood pressure, HR, and other physiological variables during surgery for SCI, inherently few have monitored cardiovascular function during recovery. This study shows that anesthetics affect hemodynamic parameters differently, which in turn can affect functional outcome measures. This supports the need for a careful evaluation of cardiovascular and other physiological measures in experimental models of SCI. Choice of anesthetic should be an important consideration in experimental designs and data analyses.
PMCID: PMC3584507  PMID: 21545262
animal model; arterial blood pressure; chronic telemetry; critical care; hemodynamics; HR; hypotension; isofluorane; MAP; neurology; pentobarbital; recovery of function
11.  Early Endogenous Activation of CB1 and CB2 Receptors after Spinal Cord Injury Is a Protective Response Involved in Spontaneous Recovery 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(11):e49057.
Spinal cord injury (SCI) induces a cascade of processes that may further expand the damage (secondary injury) or, alternatively, may be part of a safeguard response. Here we show that after a moderate-severe contusive SCI in rats there is a significant and very early increase in the spinal cord content of the endocannabinoids 2-arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) and arachidonoyl ethanolamide (anandamide, AEA). Since 2-AG and AEA act through CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors, we administered at 20 minutes after lesion a single injection of their respective antagonists AM281 and AM630 alone or in combination to block the effects of this early endocannabinoid accumulation. We observed that AM281, AM630 or AM281 plus AM630 administration impairs the spontaneous motor recovery of rats according to the Basso-Beattie-Bresnahan (BBB) locomotor scale. However, blockade of CB1, CB2 or both receptors produced different effects at the histopathological level. Thus, AM630 administration results at 90 days after lesion in increased MHC-II expression by spinal cord microglia/monocytes and reduced number of serotoninergic fibres in lumbar spinal cord (below the lesion). AM281 exerted the same effects but also increased oedema volume estimated by MRI. Co-administration of AM281 and AM630 produced the effects observed with the administration of either AM281 or AM630 and also reduced white matter and myelin preservation and enhanced microgliosis in the epicentre. Overall, our results suggest that the endocannabinoids acting through CB1 and CB2 receptors are part of an early neuroprotective response triggered after SCI that is involved in the spontaneous recovery after an incomplete lesion.
PMCID: PMC3496738  PMID: 23152849
12.  Forced Exercise as a Rehabilitation Strategy after Unilateral Cervical Spinal Cord Contusion Injury 
Journal of Neurotrauma  2009;26(5):721-731.
Evaluation of locomotor training after spinal cord injury (SCI) has primarily focused on hind limb recovery, with evidence of functional and molecular changes in response to exercise. Since trauma at a cervical (C) level is common in human SCI, we used a unilateral C4 contusion injury model in rats to determine whether forced exercise (Ex) would affect spinal cord biochemistry, anatomy, and recovery of fore and hind limb function. SCI was created with the Infinite Horizon spinal cord impactor device at C4 with a force of 200 Kdyne and a mean displacement of 1600–1800 μm in adult female Sprague-Dawley rats that had been acclimated to a motorized exercise wheel apparatus. Five days post-operatively, the treated group began Ex on the wheel for 20 min per day, 5 days per week for 8 weeks. Wheel speed was increased daily according to the abilities of each animal up to 14 m/min. Control rats were handled daily but were not exposed to Ex. In one set of animals experiencing 5 days of Ex, there was a moderate increase in brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and heat shock protein–27 (HSP-27) levels in the lesion epicenter and surrounding tissue. Long-term (8 weeks) survival groups were exposed to weekly behavioral tests to assess qualitative aspects of fore limb and hind limb locomotion (fore limb scale, FLS and BBB [Basso, Beattie, and Bresnahan locomotor rating scale]), as well as sensorimotor (grid) and motor (grip) skills. Biweekly assessment of performance during wheel walking examined gross and fine motor skills. The FLS indicated a significant benefit of Ex during weeks 2–4. The BBB test showed no change with Ex at the end of the 8-week period, however hind limb grid performance was improved during weeks 2–4. Lesion size was not affected by Ex, but the presence of phagocytic and reactive glial cells was reduced with Ex as an intervention. These results suggest that Ex alone can influence the evolution of the injury and transiently improve fore and hind limb function during weeks 2–4 following a cervical SCI.
PMCID: PMC2848827  PMID: 19489718
cervical contusion; forced exercise; forelimb behavior; spinal cord injury
13.  Role of Spared Pathways in Locomotor Recovery after Body-Weight-Supported Treadmill Training in Contused Rats 
Journal of Neurotrauma  2011;28(12):2405-2416.
Body-weight-supported treadmill training (BWSTT)-related locomotor recovery has been shown in spinalized animals. Only a few animal studies have demonstrated locomotor recovery after BWSTT in an incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI) model, such as contusion injury. The contribution of spared descending pathways after BWSTT to behavioral recovery is unclear. Our goal was to evaluate locomotor recovery in contused rats after BWSTT, and to study the role of spared pathways in spinal plasticity after BWSTT. Forty-eight rats received a contusion, a transection, or a contusion followed at 9 weeks by a second transection injury. Half of the animals in the three injury groups were given BWSTT for up to 8 weeks. Kinematics and the Basso-Beattie-Bresnahan (BBB) test assessed behavioral improvements. Changes in Hoffmann-reflex (H-reflex) rate depression property, soleus muscle mass, and sprouting of primary afferent fibers were also evaluated. BWSTT-contused animals showed accelerated locomotor recovery, improved H-reflex properties, reduced muscle atrophy, and decreased sprouting of small caliber afferent fibers. BBB scores were not improved by BWSTT. Untrained contused rats that received a transection exhibited a decrease in kinematic parameters immediately after the transection; in contrast, trained contused rats did not show an immediate decrease in kinematic parameters after transection. This suggests that BWSTT with spared descending pathways leads to neuroplasticity at the lumbar spinal level that is capable of maintaining locomotor activity. Discontinuing training after the transection in the trained contused rats abolished the improved kinematics within 2 weeks and led to a reversal of the improved H-reflex response, increased muscle atrophy, and an increase in primary afferent fiber sprouting. Thus continued training may be required for maintenance of the recovery. Transected animals had no effect of BWSTT, indicating that in the absence of spared pathways this training paradigm did not improve function.
PMCID: PMC3235344  PMID: 21568686
body-weight-supported treadmill training; contusion; monosynaptic reflex
14.  Treadmill training enhances the recovery of normal stepping patterns in spinal cord contused rats✩ 
Experimental Neurology  2008;216(1):139-147.
Treadmill training is known to improve stepping in complete spinal cord injured animals. Few studies have examined whether treadmill training also enhances locomotor recovery in animals following incomplete spinal cord injuries. In the present study, we compared locomotor recovery in trained and untrained rats that received a severe mid-thoracic contusion of the spinal cord. A robotic device was used to train and to test bipedal hindlimb stepping on a treadmill. Training was imposed for 8 weeks. The robotic device supported the weight of the rats and recorded ankle movements in the hindlimbs for movement analyses. Both the trained and untrained rats generated partial weight bearing hindlimb steps after the spinal cord contusion. Dragging during swing was more prevalent in the untrained rats than the trained rats. In addition, only the trained rats performed step cycle trajectories that were similar to normal step cycle trajectories in terms of the trajectory shape and movement velocity characteristics. In contrast, untrained rats executed step cycles that consisted of fast, kick-like movements during forward swing. These findings indicate that spinal cord contused rats can generate partial weight bearing stepping in the absence of treadmill training. The findings also suggest that the effect of treadmill training is to restore normal patterns of hindlimb movements following severe incomplete spinal cord injury in rats.
PMCID: PMC3297429  PMID: 19111541
Bipedal; Locomotion; Robot; Kinematics; Velocity
15.  A Prediction Model for Determining Over Ground Walking Speed After Locomotor Training in Persons With Motor Incomplete Spinal Cord Injury 
To develop and test a clinically relevant model for predicting the recovery of over ground walking speed after 36 sessions of progressive body weight–supported treadmill training (BWSTT) in individuals with motor incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI).
A retrospective review and stepwise regression analysis of a SCI clinical outcomes data set.
Outpatient SCI laboratory.
Thirty individuals with a motor incomplete SCI who had participated in locomotor training with BWSTT. Eight individuals with similar diagnoses were used to prospectively test the prediction model.
Main Outcome Measures:
Over ground walking speed was assessed using the 10-m walking test.
The locomotor training program consisted of 36 sessions of sequential comprehensive training comprised of robotic assisted BWSTT, followed by manual assisted BWSTT, and over ground walking. The dose of locomotor training was standardized throughout the protocol.
Clinical characteristics with predictive value for walking speed were time from injury onset, the presence or absence of voluntary bowel and bladder voiding, a functional spasticity assessment, and over ground walking speed before locomotor training. The model identified that these characteristics accounted for 78.3% of the variability in the actual final over ground walking speed after 36 sessions of locomotor training. The model was successful in prospectively predicting over ground walking speed in the 8 test participants within 4.15 ± 2.22 cm/s in their recovered walking speed.
This prediction model can identify individuals who are most likely to experience success using locomotor training by determining an expected magnitude of training effect, thereby allowing individualized decisions regarding the use of this intensive approach to rehabilitation.
PMCID: PMC2647503  PMID: 19264051
Spinal cord injuries; Tetraparesis; Parapareses; Spasticity; Locomotor training; Lokomat; Physical therapy; Ambulation; Treadmill training; Body weight support; Robotic; Rehabilitation
16.  A Systematic Review of Exercise Training To Promote Locomotor Recovery in Animal Models of Spinal Cord Injury 
Journal of Neurotrauma  2012;29(8):1600-1613.
In the early 1980s experiments on spinalized cats showed that exercise training on the treadmill could enhance locomotor recovery after spinal cord injury (SCI). In this review, we summarize the evidence for the effectiveness of exercise training aimed at promoting locomotor recovery in animal models of SCI. We performed a systematic search of the literature using Medline, Web of Science, and Embase. Of the 362 studies screened, 41 were included. The adult female rat was the most widely used animal model. The majority of studies (73%) reported that exercise training had a positive effect on some aspect of locomotor recovery. Studies employing a complete SCI were less likely to have positive outcomes. For incomplete SCI models, contusion was the most frequently employed method of lesion induction, and the degree of recovery depended on injury severity. Positive outcomes were associated with training regimens that involved partial weight-bearing activity, commenced within a critical period of 1–2 weeks after SCI, and maintained training for at least 8 weeks. Considerable heterogeneity in training paradigms and methods used to assess or quantify recovery was observed. A 13-item checklist was developed and employed to assess the quality of reporting and study design; only 15% of the studies had high methodological quality. We recommend that future studies include control groups, randomize animals to groups, conduct blinded assessments, report the extent of the SCI lesion, and report sample size calculations. A small battery of objective assessment methods including assessment of over-ground stepping should also be developed and routinely employed. This would allow future meta-analyses of the effectiveness of exercise interventions on locomotor recovery.
PMCID: PMC3353762  PMID: 22401139
exercise; locomotion; recovery; spinal cord
17.  Anti-Inflammatory Treatments during the Chronic Phase of Spinal Cord Injury Improve Locomotor Function in Adult Mice 
Journal of Neurotrauma  2011;28(9):1995-2002.
Our previous data suggested that ongoing inflammation in the spinal cord 6 weeks following spinal cord injury was detrimental to locomotor function. Others have shown in the acute and sub-acute post-injury phase that microglial/macrophage activation and T regulatory cells are detrimental to recovery. Here, C57BL/6 mice with a moderately severe T9 contusion were injected intravenously daily with minocycline, which reduces microglial/macrophage activation, or with CD25 antibodies, which reduce T regulatory cell function, starting at 6 weeks after injury. Both anti-inflammatory drugs caused an improvement in hindlimb locomotor function over the 2-week treatment, as measured by the Basso Mouse Scale (BMS). The improvement was functionally important, with mice having problems with coordinated stepping (BMS ∼6) before treatment to walking essentially normally (BMS >7) at the end of the treatment. The effects diminished within 1 week after termination of the treatments, suggesting an ongoing and dynamic inflammatory process. The area of white matter or the inflammatory markers CD68 for activated microglia/macrophages and CD45 for leukocytes were not different between the groups. These data suggest that inflammation during the chronic phase following spinal cord injury reduces conduction through the epicenter, possibly by release of cytokines, and is amenable to treatment for improved neurological function.
PMCID: PMC3172871  PMID: 21740131
CD25; contusion; inflammation; microglia; minocycline
18.  Ethanol Extract of Bupleurum falcatum Improves Functional Recovery by Inhibiting Matrix Metalloproteinases-2 and -9 Activation and Inflammation after Spinal Cord Injury 
Experimental Neurobiology  2010;19(3):146-154.
Matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs) are zinc-dependent endopeptidases that degrade the extracellular matrix and other extracellular proteins. Upregulation of MMPs activity is known to be required for the inflammatory cell infiltration after spinal cord injury (SCI) and most likely contributes to early blood spinal barrier disruption and inflammation, thereby leading to the impairment of functional recovery. Here, we examined the effect of ethanol extract of Bupleurum falcatum (BF) on functional recovery by inhibiting MMP-2 and -9 activation and inflammation after SCI. Rats received a moderate, weight-drop contusion injury to spinal cord were administered orally with BF at a dose of 100 mg/kg for 14 d and functional recovery was measured by Basso-Beattie-Bresnahan locomotor open field behavioral rating test, inclined plane test and foot print analysis. To examine the neuroprotective effect of BF, TUNEL staining and counting were also performed. In addition, the expression and/or activation of MMP-2, MMP-9 and inflammatory mediators such as TNF-α, IL-1β, COX-2, and iNOS were examined by RT-PCR and gelatin zymography using spinal cord tissue from 1 d after injury. Our data showed that BF significantly inhibited the expression and activation of both MMP-2 and MMP-9 after SCI. The mRNA expressions of TNF-α, IL-1β, COX-2, and iNOS were also significantly attenuated by BF. Furthermore, BF reduced apoptotic cell death at 1 d after injury, thereby significantly reduced lesion volume and improved functional recovery. Taken together, these results suggest that BF can be used as a potential therapeutic agent for treating acute spinal injury.
PMCID: PMC3214781  PMID: 22110354
matrix metalloproteinase; spinal cord injury; blood brain barrier; zymography
19.  Quantifying Changes Following Spinal Cord Injury with Velocity Dependent Locomotor Measures 
Journal of neuroscience methods  2013;214(1):27-36.
Many locomotor measures commonly used to assess functional deficits following neurological injury are velocity dependent. This makes the comparison of faster pre-injury walking to slower post-injury walking a challenging process. In lieu of calculating mean values at specific velocities, we have employed the use of nonlinear regression techniques to quantify locomotor measures across all velocities. This enables us to assess more accurately the locomotor recovery of rats after a cervical spinal cord injury. For example, while the mean stride length of the hindlimbs decreased following injury, regression analysis revealed that the change was due to the reduction in walking speed and not a functional deficit. A significant difference in the percent of the right forelimb step cycle that was spent in stance phase, or duty factor, was found across all velocities, however this deficit spontaneously recovered after 6 weeks. Conversely, no differences were initially found in hindlimb stride length, but abnormal compensatory techniques were found to have developed 3 weeks after injury.
PMCID: PMC3628740  PMID: 23333791
Locomotion; injury; functional deficits
20.  Endogenous Proliferation after Spinal Cord Injury in Animal Models 
Stem Cells International  2012;2012:387513.
Spinal cord injury (SCI) results in motor and sensory deficits, the severity of which depends on the level and extent of the injury. Animal models for SCI research include transection, contusion, and compression mouse models. In this paper we will discuss the endogenous stem cell response to SCI in animal models. All SCI animal models experience a similar peak of cell proliferation three days after injury; however, each specific type of injury promotes a specific and distinct stem cell response. For example, the transection model results in a strong and localized initial increase of proliferation, while in contusion and compression models, the initial level of proliferation is lower but encompasses the entire rostrocaudal extent of the spinal cord. All injury types result in an increased ependymal proliferation, but only in contusion and compression models is there a significant level of proliferation in the lateral regions of the spinal cord. Finally, the fate of newly generated cells varies from a mainly oligodendrocyte fate in contusion and compression to a mostly astrocyte fate in the transection model. Here we will discuss the potential of endogenous stem/progenitor cell manipulation as a therapeutic tool to treat SCI.
PMCID: PMC3539424  PMID: 23316243
21.  Treadmill exercise reduces spinal cord injury-induced apoptosis by activating the PI3K/Akt pathway in rats 
Apoptosis occurring secondary to spinal cord injury (SCI) causes further neural damage and functional loss. In this study, a rat model was used to investigate the effect of treadmill exercise on SCI-induced apoptosis and expression of neurotrophic factors. To produce SCI, a contusion injury (10 g × 25 mm) was applied subsequent to laminectomy at the T9–T10 level. Following SCI, treadmill exercise was performed for six weeks. Hindlimb motor function was evaluated with a grid-walking test. The expression of neurotrophic factors and the level of apoptosis at the site of SCI were determined by western blotting. SCI reduced hindlimb motor function and suppressed expression of neurotrophin (NT)-3 and insulin-like growth factor (IGF)-1. Expression of phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K), the ratio of phosphorylated Akt to Akt (pAkt/Akt) and the ratio of B-cell lymphoma 2 (Bcl-2) to Bax (Bcl-2/Bax) were decreased, and cleaved caspase-3 expression was increased by SCI. Treadmill exercise enhanced hindlimb motor function and increased expression of nerve growth factor (NGF), NT-3 and IGF-1 in the SCI rats. Treadmill exercise increased PI3K expression, the pAkt/Akt and the Bcl-2/Bax ratios, and suppressed cleaved caspase-3 expression in the injured spinal cord. This study demonstrated that treadmill exercise promotes the recovery of motor function by suppressing apoptosis in the injured spinal cord. The beneficial effect of exercise may be attributed to the increase in expression of neurotrophic factors via activation of the PI3K/Akt pathway.
PMCID: PMC3919853  PMID: 24520250
spinal cord injury; treadmill exercise; motor function; apoptosis; neurotrophic factors
22.  Molecular and Cellular Changes in the Lumbar Spinal Cord following Thoracic Injury: Regulation by Treadmill Locomotor Training 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e88215.
Traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) often leads to debilitating loss of locomotor function. Neuroplasticity of spinal circuitry underlies some functional recovery and therefore represents a therapeutic target to improve locomotor function following SCI. However, the cellular and molecular mechanisms mediating neuroplasticity below the lesion level are not fully understood. The present study performed a gene expression profiling in the rat lumbar spinal cord at 1 and 3 weeks after contusive SCI at T9. Another group of rats received treadmill locomotor training (TMT) until 3 weeks, and gene expression profiles were compared between animals with and without TMT. Microarray analysis showed that many inflammation-related genes were robustly upregulated in the lumbar spinal cord at both 1 and 3 weeks after thoracic injury. Notably, several components involved in an early complement activation pathway were concurrently upregulated. In line with the microarray finding, the number of microglia substantially increased not only in the white matter but also in the gray matter. C3 and complement receptor 3 were intensely expressed in the ventral horn after injury. Furthermore, synaptic puncta near ventral motor neurons were frequently colocalized with microglia after injury, implicating complement activation and microglial cells in synaptic remodeling in the lumbar locomotor circuitry after SCI. Interestingly, TMT did not influence the injury-induced upregulation of inflammation-related genes. Instead, TMT restored pre-injury expression patterns of several genes that were downregulated by injury. Notably, TMT increased the expression of genes involved in neuroplasticity (Arc, Nrcam) and angiogenesis (Adam8, Tie1), suggesting that TMT may improve locomotor function in part by promoting neurovascular remodeling in the lumbar motor circuitry.
PMCID: PMC3919755  PMID: 24520355
23.  Deficits in bladder function following spinal cord injury vary depending on the level of the injury 
Experimental neurology  2010;226(1):128-135.
Loss of bladder function is an important consequence of a spinal cord injury (SCI) but is rarely assessed in animal studies of SCI. Here, we use a simple outcome measure (volume of retained urine) to assess bladder dysfunction over time following moderate contusion injuries at 3 different thoracic levels (T1, T4, or T9) and complete crush injuries (T1 vs T9). The volume of urine retained in the bladder was measured daily for fourteen days post-injury by anesthetizing the animals with isoflurane, expressing the bladder, and weighing the urine. To compare bladder deficits with the degree of impairment of hindlimb motor function, locomotion was assessed using the BBB open field rating scale. Rats with contusions at T4 and T9 exhibited bladder impairments reflected by increased urine retention from 1-12 days post injury. In contrast, rats with contusions at T1 exhibited minimal deficits (smaller volumes of retained urine). Lesion size and overall functional impairment was comparable between groups based on quantitative assessments of lesion area at the epicenter and BBB locomotor scores. Moreover, a sector analysis of sparing of different portions of the white matter revealed no differences in sparing of different funiculi between the groups. Injections of Fluorogold into lumbar segments led to retrograde labeling of a larger number of neurons in the pontine micturition center (PMC) following T1 injury when compared to T4 or T9. Thus, moderate contusion lesions at T1 spare a critical descending pathway able to mediate at least reflex voiding in rats.
PMCID: PMC2955760  PMID: 20713043
Spinal cord injury; Bladder; Contusion; Crush; Fluorogold
24.  Long-lasting Involuntary Motor Activity After Spinal Cord Injury 
Spinal cord  2010;49(1):87-93.
Study Design
Prospective cohort study
This study was designed to neurophysiologically characterize spinal motor activity during recovery from spinal cord injury (SCI).
University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.
Twenty five consecutive acute SCI admissions were recruited for this study.
The American Spinal Injury Association Impairment Scale (AIS) was used to categorize injury level and severity at onset. Surface EMG recording, was carried out initially between the day of admission and 17 days post onset (6.0 ± 4.3, mean ± SD days). Follow-up recordings were performed for up to 9 months after injury. Initial AIS distribution was: 7 AIS-A; 3 AIS-B; 2 AIS-C; 13 AIS-D.
Twelve subjects (48%) showed long-duration involuntary motor unit activation during relaxation. This activity was seen on initial examination in nine and on follow-up by three months post-injury in three others. It was seen in muscles innervated from the injury zone in 11 and caudal to the lesion in 9 subjects. This activity was independent of the presence or absence of tendon reflexes and the ability to volitionally suppress plantar stimulation elicited reflex withdrawal.
The form of involuntary activity described here is the likely result of the altered balance of excitation and inhibition reaching spinal motor neurons due to the loss of inhibitory interneurons or their reduced activation by damaged supraspinal drive and the synaptic reorganization that follows SCI. As such, this activity may be useful for monitoring the effects of neuroprotective and restorative intervention strategies in persons with SCI.
PMCID: PMC2976782  PMID: 20585326
Spinal Cord Injury; Motor control; surface electromyography; Brain Motor Control Assessment; Spasticity
25.  Effects of Methylprednisolone on the Neural Conduction of the Motor Evoked Potentials in Spinal Cord Injured Rats 
Journal of Korean Medical Science  2005;20(1):132-138.
Methylprednisolone (MP), a glucocorticoid steroid, has an anti-inflammatory action and seems to inhibit the formation of oxygen free radicals produced during lipid peroxidation in a spinal cord injury (SCI). However, the effects of MP on the functional recovery after a SCI is controversial. The present study was conducted to determine the effects of MP on the recovery of neural conduction following a SCI. A SCI was produced using the NYU spinal cord impactor. A behavioral test was conducted to measure neurological disorders, and motor evoked potentials (MEPs) were recorded. According to the behavioral test, using BBB locomotor scaling, MP-treated animals showed improved functional recoveries when compared to salinetreated animals. MEP latencies in the MP-treated group were shortened when compared to those in the control group. Peak amplitudes of MEPs were larger in the MP-treated group than those in the control group. The thresholds of MEPs tended to be lower in the MP-treated group than those in the control group. These results suggest that MP may improve functional recovery after a SCI.
PMCID: PMC2808560  PMID: 15716618
Spinal Cord Injuries; Methylprednisolone; Behavior; Evoked Potentials; Recovery of Function

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