Serge Rossignol, Université de Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Assessing specific methods of locomotor training in cats with partial spinal cord lesions

Funded in: 2013, 2014, 2015

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Problem: Balance disturbance between the supraspinal and the sensory inputs changes the functions of the reflexes.

Target: Analysis of the reorganization and changes of the spinal circuitry using various regimes of locomotor training

Goal: Establish the most effective methods for training patients with SCI

Locomotion depends on an exactly balanced activity of the flexor and extensor muscles in the limbs and is controlled by the supraspinal centers, like the motor region of the brain and the cerebellum. But locomotion is also profoundly and durably modulated by the spinal locomotor circuits and the sensory information coming from the body periphery.

After spinal cord injury the inputs from the supraspinal centers cannot be conducted anymore resulting in a complete or partial loss of control over locomotion. The disturbed balance between the supraspinal inputs and the sensory inputs from the body change the functions of the reflexes and the spinal circuits, resulting for example in spasticity. As consequence the sensory influence coming from the body can influence the plasticity in the spinal circuits following spinal cord injury, a fact that is used in the rehabilitation training.

This project will study the effects of various regimes of locomotor training in different models of SCI on the evolution of behavior and interlimb reflex functions and spinal circuits.
The various forms of locomotor training (treadmill training, assisted locomotion, treadmill with obstacles) will be used to study the effects on reorganization and changes of the spinal circuitry and interconnections induced by the different sensory input. The specific changes will be measured quantitatively by electrophysiological and histological methods.

Understanding the neuronal mechanisms underlying plastic changes within the spinal cord are essential  to establish the most effective forms of training in people with SCI.