Self-directed rehabilitation training intensity thresholds for efficient recovery of skilled forelimb function in rats with cervical spinal cord injury
Keith K Fenrich, Ben W Hallworth, Romana Vavrek, Pamela J F Raposo, John E Misiaszek, David J Bennett, Karim Fouad, Abel Torres-Espin
Task specific rehabilitation training is commonly used to treat motor dysfunction after neurological injures such as spinal cord injury (SCI), yet the use of task specific training in preclinical animal studies of SCI is not common. This is due in part to the difficulty in training animals to perform specific motor tasks, but also due to the lack of knowledge about optimal rehabilitation training parameters to maximize recovery. The single pellet reaching, grasping and retrieval (SPRGR) task (a.k.a. single pellet reaching task or Whishaw task) is a skilled forelimb motor task used to provide rehabilitation training and test motor recovery in rodents with cervical SCI. However, the relationships between the amount, duration, intensity, and timing of training remain poorly understood. In this study, using automated robots that allow rats with cervical SCI ad libitum access to self-directed SPRGR rehabilitation training, we show clear relationships between the total amount of rehabilitation training, the intensity of training (i.e., number of attempts/h), and performance in the task. Specifically, we found that rats naturally segregate into High and Low performance groups based on training strategy and performance in the task. Analysis of the different training strategies showed that more training (i.e., increased number of attempts in the SPRGR task throughout rehabilitation training) at higher intensities (i.e., number of attempts per hour) increased performance in the task, and that improved performance in the SPRGR task was linked to differences in corticospinal tract axon collateral densities in the injured spinal cords. Importantly, however, our data also indicate that rehabilitation training becomes progressively less efficient (i.e., less recovery for each attempt) as both the amount and intensity of rehabilitation training increases. Finally, we found that Low performing animals could increase their training intensity and transition to High performing animals in chronic SCI. These results highlight the rehabilitation training strategies that are most effective to regain skilled forelimb motor function after SCI, which will facilitate pre-clinical rehabilitation studies using animal models and could be beneficial in the development of more efficient clinical rehabilitation training strategies.