Why New Spinal Cord Plasticity Does Not Disrupt Old Motor Behaviors

TitleWhy New Spinal Cord Plasticity Does Not Disrupt Old Motor Behaviors
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsChen, Y, Chen, L, Wang, Y, Chen, XYang, Wolpaw, J
JournalThe Journal of Neuroscience
Date PublishedJuly
KeywordsH-Reflex, motor learning, operant conditioning, plasticity, Rehabilitation, Spinal Cord

When new motor learning changes the spinal cord, old behaviors are not impaired; their key features are preserved by additional compensatory plasticity. To explore the mechanisms responsible for this compensatory plasticity, we transected the spinal dorsal ascending tract before or after female rats acquired a new behavior—operantly conditioned increase or decrease in the right soleus H-reflex—and examined an old behavior—locomotion. Neither spinal dorsal ascending tract transection nor H-reflex conditioning alone impaired locomotion. Nevertheless, when spinal dorsal ascending tract transection and H-reflex conditioning were combined, the rats developed a limp and a tilted posture that correlated in direction and magnitude with the H-reflex change. When the right H-reflex was increased by conditioning, the right step lasted longer than the left and the right hip was higher than the left; when the right H-reflex was decreased by conditioning, the opposite occurred. These results indicate that ascending sensory input guides the compensatory plasticity that normally prevents the plasticity underlying H-reflex change from impairing locomotion. They support the concept of the state of the spinal cord as a negotiated equilibrium that reflects the concurrent influences of all the behaviors in an individual's repertoire; and they support the new therapeutic strategies this concept introduces.


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