Commissural interneurons in locomotion and spasticity after spinal cord injury

Funding Details
Canadian Institutes of Health Research
  • Grant type: CIHR Fellowship
  • Years: 2013/14 to 2014/15
  • Total Funding: $71,251
Keywords
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Project Summary

The spinal cord is the primary neurological link between the brain and the rest of the body. Damage to the spinal cord can cause paralysis to regions below the injury site, followed by secondary symptoms, such as muscle spasticity. Normally, there is limited recovery of motor and sensory function below the site of injury. In most spinal cord injuries, however, there are at least some neurons that are not injured (i.e., spared), which can effectively 'bridge' the injury site. Recent studies have shown that these spared neurons can form new connections below the injury in a process called 'plasticity'. Although they provide important insights, these studies are limited because they do not identify the specific types of neurons responsible for recovery and used spinal cord injury models that are not relevant for human injuries. Knowing the key neuronal players and understanding how they form new connections is a very important step in developing a cure for spinal cord injury. Our project focuses on neural plasticity using transgenic mice and a spinal cord injury model that is relevant to human spinal cord injuries. We will focus specifically on a type of spinal cord neuron that is important for short distance communication in the spinal cord. These neurons are particularly interesting because they have an elevated capacity to form new connections after injury. In a first set of experiments we will examine the roles of these neurons in the normal walking behaviour of mice. In a second set of experiments animals will receive a spinal cord injury, and some animals will be treated to increase the amount of plasticity, whereas others will be treated to block the plasticity. We will then test which group of animals has improved locomotor abilities and reduced spasticity. These experiments are highly relevant to human spinal cord injuries and this project will provide the foundation from which plasticity-based therapies can be developed to treat spinal cord injury.