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Neurotherapeutics. 2011 Apr;8(2):283-93. doi: 10.1007/s13311-011-0034-4.

Plasticity after spinal cord injury: relevance to recovery and approaches to facilitate it.

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Spinal Cord and Brain Injury Research Center, University of Kentucky, College of Medicine, Lexington, Kentucky 40536-0509, USA.


Motor, sensory, and autonomic functions can spontaneously return or recover to varying extents in both humans and animals, regardless of the traumatic spinal cord injury (SCI) level and whether it was complete or incomplete. In parallel, adverse and painful functions can appear. The underlying mechanisms for all of these diverse functional changes are summarized under the term plasticity. Our review will describe what is known regarding this phenomenon after traumatic SCI and focus on its relevance to motor and sensory recovery. Although it is still somewhat speculative, plasticity can be found throughout the neuraxis and includes various changes ranging from alterations in the properties of spared neuronal circuitries, intact or lesioned axon collateral sprouting, and synaptic rearrangements. Furthermore, we will discuss a selection of potential approaches for facilitating plasticity as possible SCI treatments. Because a mechanism underlying spontaneous plasticity and recovery might be motor activity and the related neuronal activity, activity-based therapies are being used and investigated both clinically and experimentally. Additional pharmacological and gene-delivery approaches, based on plasticity being dependent on the delicate balance between growth inhibition and promotion as well as the basic intrinsic growth ability of the neurons themselves, have been found to be effective alone and in combination with activity-based therapies. The positive results have to be tempered with the reality that not all plasticity is beneficial. Therefore, a tremendous number of questions still need to be addressed. Ultimately, answers to these questions will enhance plasticity's potential for improving the quality of life for persons with SCI.

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