PLoS One, Jan 2016

Body Position Influences Which Neural Structures Are Recruited by Lumbar Transcutaneous Spinal Cord Stimulation

Danner SM, Krenn M, Hofstoetter US, Toth A, Mayr W, Minassian K


Transcutaneous stimulation of the human lumbosacral spinal cord is used to evoke spinal reflexes and to neuromodulate altered sensorimotor function following spinal cord injury. Both applications require the reliable stimulation of afferent posterior root fibers. Yet under certain circumstances, efferent anterior root fibers can be co-activated. We hypothesized that body position influences the preferential stimulation of sensory or motor fibers. Stimulus-triggered responses to transcutaneous spinal cord stimulation were recorded using surface-electromyography from quadriceps, hamstrings, tibialis anterior, and triceps surae muscles in 10 individuals with intact nervous systems in the supine, standing and prone positions. Single and paired (30-ms inter-stimulus intervals) biphasic stimulation pulses were applied through surface electrodes placed on the skin between the T11 and T12 inter-spinous processes referenced to electrodes on the abdomen. The paired stimulation was applied to evaluate the origin of the evoked electromyographic response; trans-synaptic responses would be suppressed whereas direct efferent responses would almost retain their amplitude. We found that responses to the second stimulus were decreased to 14%±5% of the amplitude of the response to the initial pulse in the supine position across muscles, to 30%±5% in the standing, and to only 80%±5% in the prone position. Response thresholds were lowest during standing and highest in the prone position and response amplitudes were largest in the supine and smallest in the prone position. The responses obtained in the supine and standing positions likely resulted from selective stimulation of sensory fibers while concomitant motor-fiber stimulation occurred in the prone position. We assume that changes of root-fiber paths within the generated electric field when in the prone position increase the stimulation thresholds of posterior above those of anterior root fibers. Thus, we recommend conducting spinal reflex or neuromodulation studies with subjects lying supine or in an upright position, as in standing or stepping.


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