Modulation in spinal circuits and corticospinal connections following nerve stimulation and operant conditioning.

TitleModulation in spinal circuits and corticospinal connections following nerve stimulation and operant conditioning.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2006
AuthorsThompson, AK, Stein, RB, Chen, XY, Wolpaw, J
JournalConference proceedings : ... Annual International Conference of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society. Conference
Date Published09/2006
KeywordsSpinal Cord

Neural plasticity occurs throughout adult life. In healthy individuals, different spinal pathways are differently modulated during different daily activities. Drastic changes to nervous system activity and connections caused by injuries or diseases alter spinal reflexes, and this is often related to disturbed motor functions. In both health and disease, spinal reflexes are subject to substantial modifications. Plasticity in supraspinal descending connections is even more remarkable; corticospinal connectivity has been shown to be extremely plastic. In this session, we describe two approaches for possibly improving recovery after central nervous system (CNS) lesions. They are very different, but both involve repetitive nerve stimulation and CNS plasticity. The first approach is functional electrical stimulation (FES) of the common peroneal nerve, which has been used to treat foot drop in patients with CNS lesions. The second approach is operant conditioning of a spinal reflex. Spinal reflex operant conditioning studies in animal models have shown plastic changes in spinal cord neurons associated with this form of learning and improved locomotor function in incomplete spinal cord injured rats. Thus, reflex conditioning might be a robust approach to inducing plasticity at spinal and supraspinal levels. As a first step in establishing this approach and characterizing its effects in the human adult CNS, we are currently investigating the extent and time course of operant conditioning of the soleus H-reflex in healthy subjects. In results to date, all subjects (n=5) have changed reflex size in the correct direction to various degree (16-36%) over 2-3 months of conditioning, indicating possibility that H-reflex conditioning can occur in humans. At the same time, the substantial inter-subject variation in the time course and extent of conditioning suggest that additional data are needed to establish its principal features. We hope that studying modulation and modification o- f the CNS by different approaches will help us further understand the plasticity of the human adult nervous system.


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