A study published on CellReports sheds light on how a specific type of neuronal feedback from sites below a spinal cord injury can play a crucial role in the rehabilitation process.
Understanding this process in more detail can help design rehabilitation strategies with maximal benefit for spinal cord injury patients, the researchers say.
Spinal cord injury disconnects communication between the brain and the spinal cord, disrupting control over part of the body.
Studying the mechanisms of recovery, Aya Takeoka from NeuroElectronics Research Flanders (NERF) has found that a specific type of neuronal feedback from sites below the injury plays a crucial role during early recovery and for maintaining regained motor functions.
“Afferents below the lesion undergo specific rearrangements soon after injury, and without them regained motor function cannot be maintained, even if detour circuits have formed,” explains Takeoka.
“We know that activating a very specific type of sensory feedback pathway plays a crucial role during rehabilitative training, promoting the formation of detour circuits. Understanding this process in more detail can help us design rehabilitation strategies with maximal benefit for spinal cord injury patients.”
Takeoka says they have found a central role for so-called proprioceptive afferents, nerve fibers which signal proprioceptive information back to the spinal cord.
Proprioception is a type of so-called somatosensory feedback, which entails the unconscious perception of self-movement and body position through nerve cells that are located in close proximity of the spinal cord and can detect muscle stretch.
“The fact that proprioceptive feedback, specifically from below the site of injury, is so important, suggests that task-specific rehabilitative training that emphasises such feedback is likely to maximise functional outcomes in rehabilitation clinics.”
You can read the full report here: Functional Local Proprioceptive Feedback Circuits Initiate and Maintain Locomotor Recovery after Spinal Cord Injury.
NeuroElectronics Research Flanders is an interdisciplinary research centre based in Leuven, Belgium.