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Exp Neurol. 2011 Sep;231(1):97-103. doi: 10.1016/j.expneurol.2011.05.020. Epub 2011 Jun 13.

Breathing patterns after mid-cervical spinal contusion in rats.

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Department of Comparative Biosciences, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706-1102, USA.


Respiratory failure is the leading cause of death after cervical spinal injury. We hypothesized that incomplete cervical spinal injuries would alter respiratory pattern and initiate plasticity in the neural control of breathing. Further, we hypothesized that the severity of cervical spinal contusion would correlate with changes in breathing pattern. Fourteen days after C4-C5 contusions, respiratory frequency and tidal volume were measured in unanesthetized Sprague Dawley rats in a whole body plethysmograph. Phrenic motor output was monitored in the same rats which were anesthetized, vagotomized, paralyzed and ventilated to eliminate and/or control sensory feedback that could alter breathing patterns. The extent of spinal injury was approximated histologically by measurements of the injury-induced cyst area in transverse sections; cysts ranged from 2 to 28% of spinal cross-sectional area, and had a unilateral bias. In unanesthetized rats, the severity of spinal injury correlated negatively with tidal volume (R(2)=0.85; p<0.001) and positively with breathing frequency (R(2)=0.65; p<0.05). Thus, the severity of C4-C5 spinal contusion dictates post-injury breathing pattern. In anesthetized rats, phrenic burst amplitude was decreased on the side of injury, and burst frequency correlated negatively with contusion size (R(2)=0.51; p<0.05). A strong correlation between unanesthetized breathing pattern and the pattern of phrenic bursts in anesthetized, vagotomized and ventilated rats suggests that changes in respiratory motor output after spinal injury reflect, at least in part, intrinsic neural mechanisms of CNS plasticity initiated by injury.

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