Karim Fouad and Keith Fenrich, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada

When and where to promote neuroplasticity when using targeted treatments following spinal cord injury

Funded in: 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022

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Problem: Plasticity and effect of training are limited by various nerve cell growth inhibitory factors

Target: Exploring a new drug, Pleiotrophin, and turn cell growth inhibitors into promoters

Goal: Test when and where Pleiotrophin is most effective in both sub-acute and chronic injury


Rehabilitation training is considered one of the best treatments for promoting recovery following spinal cord injury. Training causes the central nervous system (which includes the brain and spinal cord) to rewire. This rewiring is referred to as neuroplasticity and is the basis for recovery. Plasticity, however, is limited by various nerve cell growth inhibitory factors within the central nervous system. This is why the effect of training after spinal cord injury is limited.

This work explores a new drug (called Pleiotrophin) that is able to turn an important class of nerve cell growth inhibitors into nerve cell growth promoters. The precise locations within the central nervous system to apply this drug (e.g., above or below the spinal cord injury site) to optimize recovery is not known. The scientists propose to test at which location(s) in the central nervous system Pleiotrophin is most effective at augmenting the efficacy of rehabilitative training in a clinically relevant animal model of cervical spinal cord injury, in both sub-acute and chronic injury. This will boost the beneficial effects of training in their model, and in the future help to treat people with spinal cord injury.