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1.  Elevated MMP-9 in the Lumbar Cord Early after Thoracic Spinal Cord Injury Impedes Motor Relearning in Mice 
The Journal of Neuroscience  2013;33(32):13101-13111.
Spinal cord injury results in distant pathology around putative locomotor networks that may jeopardize the recovery of locomotion. We previously showed that activated microglia and increased cytokine expression extend at least 10 segments below the injury to influence sensory function. Matrix metalloproteinase-9 (MMP-9) is a potent regulator of acute neuroinflammation. Whether MMP-9 is produced remote to the injury or influences locomotor plasticity remains unexamined. Therefore, we characterized the lumbar enlargement after a T9 spinal cord injury in C57BL/6 (wild-type [WT]) and MMP-9-null (knock-out [KO]) mice. Within 24 h, resident microglia displayed an activated phenotype alongside increased expression of progelatinase MMP-3 in WT mice. By 7 d, increases in active MMP-9 around lumbar vasculature and production of proinflammatory TNF-α were evident. Deletion of MMP-9 attenuated remote microglial activation and restored TNF-α expression to homeostatic levels. To determine whether MMP-9 impedes locomotor plasticity, we delivered lumbar-focused treadmill training in WT and KO mice during early (2–9 d) or late (35–42 d) phases of recovery. Robust behavioral improvements were observed by 7 d, when only trained KO mice stepped in the open field. Locomotor improvements were retained for 4 weeks as identified using state of the art mouse kinematics. Neither training nor MMP-9 depletion alone promoted recovery. The same intervention delivered late was ineffective, suggesting that lesion site sparing is insufficient to facilitate activity-based training and recovery. Our work suggests that by attenuating remote mechanisms of inflammation, acute treadmill training can harness endogenous spinal plasticity to promote robust recovery.
doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1576-13.2013
PMCID: PMC3735886  PMID: 23926264
2.  Quantitative Evaluation of 3D Mouse Behaviors and Motor Function in the Open-Field after Spinal Cord Injury Using Markerless Motion Tracking 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e74536.
Thousands of scientists strive to identify cellular mechanisms that could lead to breakthroughs in developing ameliorative treatments for debilitating neural and muscular conditions such as spinal cord injury (SCI). Most studies use rodent models to test hypotheses, and these are all limited by the methods available to evaluate animal motor function. This study’s goal was to develop a behavioral and locomotor assessment system in a murine model of SCI that enables quantitative kinematic measurements to be made automatically in the open-field by applying markerless motion tracking approaches. Three-dimensional movements of eight naïve, five mild, five moderate, and four severe SCI mice were recorded using 10 cameras (100 Hz). Background subtraction was used in each video frame to identify the animal’s silhouette, and the 3D shape at each time was reconstructed using shape-from-silhouette. The reconstructed volume was divided into front and back halves using k-means clustering. The animal’s front Center of Volume (CoV) height and whole-body CoV speed were calculated and used to automatically classify animal behaviors including directed locomotion, exploratory locomotion, meandering, standing, and rearing. More detailed analyses of CoV height, speed, and lateral deviation during directed locomotion revealed behavioral differences and functional impairments in animals with mild, moderate, and severe SCI when compared with naïve animals. Naïve animals displayed the widest variety of behaviors including rearing and crossing the center of the open-field, the fastest speeds, and tallest rear CoV heights. SCI reduced the range of behaviors, and decreased speed (r = .70 p<.005) and rear CoV height (r = .65 p<.01) were significantly correlated with greater lesion size. This markerless tracking approach is a first step toward fundamentally changing how rodent movement studies are conducted. By providing scientists with sensitive, quantitative measurement methods, subjectivity and human error is reduced, potentially providing insights leading to breakthroughs in treating human disease.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0074536
PMCID: PMC3776828  PMID: 24058586
3.  Characterization of recovered walking patterns and motor control after contusive spinal cord injury in rats 
Brain and Behavior  2012;2(5):541-552.
Currently, complete recovery is unattainable for most individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI). Instead, recovery is typically accompanied by persistent sensory and motor deficits. Restoration of preinjury function will likely depend on improving plasticity and integration of these impaired systems. Eccentric muscle actions require precise integration of sensorimotor signals and are predominant during the yield (E2) phase of locomotion. Motor neuron activation and control during eccentric contractions is impaired across a number of central nervous system (CNS) disorders, but remains unexamined after SCI. Therefore, we characterized locomotor recovery after contusive SCI using hindlimb (HL) kinematics and electromyographic (EMG) recordings with specific consideration of eccentric phases of treadmill (TM) walking. Deficits in E2 and a caudal shift of locomotor subphases persisted throughout the 3-week recovery period. EMG records showed notable deficits in the semitendinosus (ST) during yield. Unlike other HL muscles, recruitment of ST changed with recovery. At 7 days, the typical dual-burst pattern of ST was lost and the second burst (ST2) was indistinct. By 21 days, the dual-burst pattern returned, but latencies remained impaired. We show that ST2 burst duration is highly predictive of open field Basso, Beattie, Bresnahan (BBB) scores. Moreover, we found that simple changes in locomotor specificity which enhance eccentric actions result in new motor patterns after SCI. Our findings identify a caudal shift in stepping kinematics, irregularities in E2, and aberrant ST2 bursting as markers of incomplete recovery. These residual impairments may provide opportunities for targeted rehabilitation.
doi:10.1002/brb3.71
PMCID: PMC3489807  PMID: 23139900
Kinematics; locomotion; rehabilitation; spinal cord injury
4.  Remote activation of microglia and pro-inflammatory cytokines predict the onset and severity of below-level neuropathic pain after spinal cord injury in rats 
Experimental neurology  2008;212(2):337-347.
Spinal cord injury (SCI) impairs sensory systems causing chronic allodynia. Mechanisms underlying neuropathic pain have been more extensively studied following peripheral nerve injury than after central trauma. Microglial activation, pro-inflammatory cytokine production and activation of p38 MAP kinase pathways may induce at-level allodynia following PNI. We investigated whether midthoracic SCI elicits similar behavioral and cellular responses below the level of injury (lumbar spinal cord; L5). Importantly, we show that anatomical connections between L5 and supraspinal centers remain intact after moderate SCI allowing direct comparison to a well-established model of peripheral nerve injury. We found that SCI elicits below-level allodynia of similar magnitude to at-level pain caused by a peripheral nerve injury. Moreover, the presence of robust microglial activation in L5 cord predicted allodynia in 86% of rats. Also increased phosphorylation of p38 MAP kinase occurred in the L5 dorsal horn of allodynic rats. For below-level allodynia after SCI, TNF-α and IL-1β increased in the L5 dorsal horn by 7 dpo and returned to baseline by 35 dpo. Interestingly, IL-6 remains at normal levels early after SCI and increases at chronic time points. Increased levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines also occurred in the thalamus after SCI-induced allodynia. These data suggest that remote microglial activation is pivotal in the development and maintenance of below-level allodynia after SCI. Fractalkine, a known activator of microglia, and astrocytes were not primary modulators of below-level pain. Although the mechanisms of remote microglial activation are unknown, this response may be a viable target for limiting or preventing neuropathic pain after SCI in humans.
doi:10.1016/j.expneurol.2008.04.009
PMCID: PMC2600773  PMID: 18511041
allodynia; p38; fractalkine; astrocytes; peripheral nerve injury

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