Article abstract

Nature Neuroscience 12, 1333 - 1342 (2009)
Published online: 20 September 2009 | doi:10.1038/nn.2401

Transformation of nonfunctional spinal circuits into functional states after the loss of brain input

Grégoire Courtine1,2, Yury Gerasimenko3,4, Rubia van den Brand1,2, Aileen Yew5, Pavel Musienko1,2,4, Hui Zhong3, Bingbing Song6, Yan Ao6, Ronaldo M Ichiyama3, Igor Lavrov3, Roland R Roy3,6, Michael V Sofroniew5,6 & V Reggie Edgerton3,5,6

After complete spinal cord transections that removed all supraspinal inputs in adult rats, combinations of serotonergic agonists and epidural electrical stimulation were able to acutely transform spinal networks from nonfunctional to highly functional and adaptive states as early as 1 week after injury. Using kinematics, physiological and anatomical analyses, we found that these interventions could recruit specific populations of spinal circuits, refine their control via sensory input and functionally remodel these locomotor pathways when combined with training. The emergence of these new functional states enabled full weight-bearing treadmill locomotion in paralyzed rats that was almost indistinguishable from voluntary stepping. We propose that, in the absence of supraspinal input, spinal locomotion can emerge from a combination of central pattern-generating capability and the ability of these spinal circuits to use sensory afferent input to control stepping. These findings provide a strategy by which individuals with spinal cord injuries could regain substantial levels of motor control.

  1. Neurology Department, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
  2. Rehabilitation Institute and Technology Center Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland.
  3. Department of Physiological Science, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA.
  4. Motor Physiology Laboratory, Pavlov Institute of Physiology, St. Petersburg, Russia.
  5. Department of Neurobiology, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA.
  6. Brain Research Institute, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA.

Correspondence to: Grégoire Courtine1,2 e-mail:


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