Functional recovery and regeneration of descending tracts in rats after spinal cord transection in infancy

Y Wakabayashi, H Komori, T Kawa-Uchi, K Mochida, M Takahashi, M Qi, K Otake, K Shinomiya
Spine 2001 June 1, 26 (11): 1215-22

STUDY DESIGN: The functional recovery of rats that underwent spinal cord transection in infancy was evaluated by multimodal examination (functional tests, electrophysiologic evaluation, tract-tracing) to determine the basis for the recovery.

OBJECTIVES: To determine whether the hind limb function in rats that underwent spinal cord transection in infancy is regained completely, which descending tracts regenerate after the transection, and whether the functional recovery is correlated with axonal reconnection.

SUMMARY OF BACKGROUND DATA: It is widely accepted that a newborn rat recovers its hind limb function after spinal cord transection even without any specific treatments. This functional recovery might be attributed to possible regeneration of some descending pathways, although there is a counterargument that well-trained spinal cord reflexes may bring about functional compensation.

METHODS: The thoracic spinal cord of infant rats was completely transected at Th10 when they were 2 weeks of age. Multimodal functional tests and electrophysiologic studies were performed 5 weeks later. Some recovered rats (i.e., those able to walk after the transection) underwent spinal cord retransection, with subsequent reevaluation of locomotion and muscle-evoked potentials. At 6 weeks after the initial transection, tract-tracing studies were performed in some animals.

RESULTS: A motor performance score detected the functional differences between the control and the recovered rats. Muscle-evoked potentials of hind limbs after electrical stimulation to the brain were recorded in some of the recovered rats, but never in the unrecovered rats. Moreover, the muscle-evoked potentials of the recovered rats disappeared after spinal cord retransection that resulted in loss of voluntary movement. Morphologic studies in two rats provided evidence that reconnection of rubrospinal, vestibulospinal, and reticulospinal tracts had occurred, whereas corticospinal regeneration was not detected.

CONCLUSIONS: It can be concluded that the hind limb function of rats that underwent spinal cord transection in infancy was partially regained; that axonal regeneration of the rubrospinal, vestibulospinal, or reticulospinal tracts was demonstrated, whereas the reconnection of the corticospinal tract was not observed; and that the axonal regeneration of these tracts is involved in the functional recovery.

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