Retraining Reflexes: Clinical Translation of Spinal Reflex Operant Conditioning

TitleRetraining Reflexes: Clinical Translation of Spinal Reflex Operant Conditioning
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsEftekhar, A, Norton, JJS, McDonough, CM, Wolpaw, J
Date Published07/2018
Keywordsclinical translation, H-Reflex, neurological disorders, operant conditioning, plasticity, Rehabilitation, spinal reflex

Neurological disorders, such as spinal cord injury, stroke, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, and multiple sclerosis cause motor impairments that are a huge burden at the individual, family, and societal levels. Spinal reflex abnormalities contribute to these impairments. Spinal reflex measurements play important roles in characterizing and monitoring neurological disorders and their associated motor impairments, such as spasticity, which affects nearly half of those with neurological disorders. Spinal reflexes can also serve as therapeutic targets themselves. Operant conditioning protocols can target beneficial plasticity to key reflex pathways; they can thereby trigger wider plasticity that improves impaired motor skills, such as locomotion. These protocols may complement standard therapies such as locomotor training and enhance functional recovery. This paper reviews the value of spinal reflexes and the therapeutic promise of spinal reflex operant conditioning protocols; it also considers the complex process of translating this promise into clinical reality.


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