Rapid and persistent impairments of the forelimb motor representations following cervical deafferentation in rats



Skilled motor control is regulated by the convergence of somatic sensory and motor signals in brain and spinal motor circuits. Cervical deafferentation is known to diminish forelimb somatic sensory representations rapidly and to impair forelimb movements. Our focus was to determine what effect deafferentation has on the motor representations in motor cortex, knowledge of which could provide new insights into the locus of impairment following somatic sensory loss, such as after spinal cord injury or stroke. We hypothesized that somatic sensory information is important for cortical motor map topography. To investigate this we unilaterally transected the dorsal rootlets in adult rats from C4 to C8 and mapped the forelimb motor representations using intracortical microstimulation, immediately after rhizotomy and following a 2-week recovery period. Immediately after deafferentation we found that the size of the distal representation was reduced. However, despite this loss of input there were no changes in motor threshold. Two weeks after deafferentation, animals showed a further distal representation reduction, an expansion of the elbow representation, and a small elevation in distal movement threshold. These changes were specific to the forelimb map in the hemisphere contralateral to deafferentation; there were no changes in the hindlimb or intact-side forelimb representations. Degradation of the contralateral distal forelimb representation probably contributes to the motor control deficits after deafferentation. We propose that somatic sensory inputs are essential for the maintenance of the forelimb motor map in motor cortex and should be considered when rehabilitating patients with peripheral or spinal cord injuries or after stroke.