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Brain Res. 2005 Jul 19;1050(1-2):180-9.

Hindlimb loading determines stepping quantity and quality following spinal cord transection.

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Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, 4200 Engineering Gateway (EG3225), University of California, Irvine, CA 92697-3975, USA.


We compared the bipedal hindlimb stepping ability of untrained and trained (step-trained 6 min/day) spinal rats (mid-thoracic spinal cord transection at post-natal day 5) at different levels of body weight support on a treadmill over a 40-day period, starting at 69 days of age. A robotic device provided precise levels of body weight support and recorded hindlimb movement. We assessed stepping ability using: (1) step quantity determined from the measured hindlimb movement, (2) ordinal scales of paw placement, weight-bearing, and limb flexion, and (3) the lowest level of body weight support at which stepping was maintained. Stepping quantity and quality depended strongly on the level of support provided. Stepping ability improved with time, but only at the higher levels of weight-bearing, and independently of training. Increasing limb loading by gradually decreasing body weight support altered the spatiotemporal properties of the steps, resulting in an increase in step length and stance duration and a decrease in swing and step cycle duration. The rats progressively improved their ability to support more load before collapsing from a maximum of about 42 g ( approximately 25% of body weight) at Day 1 to 73 g ( approximately 35% of body weight) at Day 40. We conclude that the level of hindlimb loading provided to a spinally transected rat strongly influences the quantity and quality of stepping. Furthermore, the relationship between stepping ability and loading conditions changes with time after spinal cord transection and is unaltered by small amounts of step training. Finally, load-bearing failure point can be a quantitative measure of locomotor recovery following spinal cord injury, especially for severely impaired animals that cannot step unassisted.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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