Sensorimotor training promotes functional recovery and somatosensory cortical map reactivation following cervical spinal cord injury


Dr Christian Xerri, as above.


Sensorimotor activity has been shown to play a key role in functional recovery after partial spinal cord injury (SCI). Most studies in rodents have focused on the rehabilitation of hindlimb locomotor functions after thoracic or lumbar SCI, whereas forelimb motor and somatosensory abilities after cervical SCI remain largely uninvestigated, despite the high incidence of such injuries in humans. Moreover, little is known about the neurophysiological substrates of training-induced recovery in supraspinal structures. This study was aimed at evaluating the effects of a training procedure combining both motor and sensory stimulation on behavioral performance and somatosensory cortical map remodeling after cervical (C4–C5) spinal hemisection in rats. This SCI severely impaired both sensory and motor capacities in the ipsilateral limbs. Without training, post-lesion motor capacities gradually improved, whereas forepaw tactile abilities remained impaired. Consistently, no stimulus-evoked responses were recorded within the forepaw representational zone in the primary somatosensory (S1) cortex at 2 months after the SCI. However, our data reveal that with training started from the 7th day post-lesion, a nearly complete recovery (characterized by an early and rapid improvement of motor functions) was associated with a gradual compensation of tactile deficits. Furthermore, the recovery of tactile abilities was correlated with the areal extent of reactivation of S1 cortex forepaw representations. Rehabilitative training promoted post-lesion adaptive plasticity, probably by enhancing endogenous activity within spared spinal and supraspinal circuits and pathways sustaining sensory and motor functions. This study highlights the beneficial effect of sensorimotor training in motor improvement and its critical influence on tactile recovery after SCI.