Probable corticospinal tract control of spinal cord plasticity in the rat.

TitleProbable corticospinal tract control of spinal cord plasticity in the rat.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsChen, XY, Wolpaw, J
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Date Published02/2002
KeywordsSpinal Cord Injuries

Descending activity from the brain shapes spinal cord reflex function throughout life, yet the mechanisms responsible for this spinal cord plasticity are poorly understood. Operant conditioning of the H-reflex, the electrical analogue of the spinal stretch reflex, is a simple model for investigating these mechanisms. An earlier study in the Sprague-Dawley rat showed that acquisition of an operantly conditioned decrease in the soleus H-reflex is not prevented by mid-thoracic transection of the ipsilateral lateral column (LC), which contains the rubrospinal, reticulospinal, and vestibulospinal tracts, and is prevented by transection of the dorsal column, which contains the main corticospinal tract (CST) and the dorsal column ascending tract (DA). The present study explored the effects of CST or DA transection on acquisition of an H-reflex decrease, and the effects of LC, CST, or DA transection on maintenance of an established decrease. CST transection prior to conditioning prevented acquisition of H-reflex decrease, while DA transection did not do so. CST transection after H-reflex decrease had been acquired led to gradual loss of the decrease over 10 days, and resulted in an H-reflex that was significantly larger than the original, naive H-reflex. In contrast, LC or DA transection after H-reflex decrease had been acquired did not affect maintenance of the decrease. These results, in combination with the earlier study, strongly imply that in the rat the corticospinal tract (CST) is essential for acquisition and maintenance of operantly conditioned decrease in the H-reflex and that other major spinal cord pathways are not essential. This previously unrecognized aspect of CST function gives insight into the processes underlying acquisition and maintenance of motor skills and could lead to novel methods for inducing, guiding, and assessing recovery of function after spinal cord injury.


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