Spontaneous locomotor recovery in spinal cord injured rats is accompanied by anatomical plasticity of reticulospinal fibers


Dr Karim Fouad, as above.
E-mail: karim.fouad@ualberta.ca


Although injured axons in mammalian spinal cords do not regenerate, some recovery of locomotor function following incomplete injury can be observed in patients and animal models. Following a lateral hemisection injury of the thoracic spinal cord, rats spontaneously recover weight-bearing stepping in the hind limb ipsilateral to the injury. The mechanisms behind this recovery are not completely understood. Plasticity in the reticulospinal tract (RtST), the tract responsible for the initiation of walking, has not been studied. In this study, rats received lateral thoracic hemisection of the spinal cord, and RtST projections were compared in two groups of rats, one early in recovery (7 days) and the other at a time point when weight-bearing stepping was fully regained (42 days). We found that this recovery occurs in parallel with increased numbers of collaterals of spared RtST fibers entering the intermediate lamina below the injury at L2. Sprouting of injured RtST fibers above the lesion was not found. In conclusion, our study suggests that sprouting of spared RtST fibers might be involved in the recovery of locomotion following incomplete spinal cord injury.