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J Neurosurg Spine. 2012 Apr;16(4):414-23. doi: 10.3171/2012.1.SPINE11684. Epub 2012 Feb 3.

Electrophysiological evaluation of sensory and motor pathways after incomplete unilateral spinal cord contusion.

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Departments of Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA.



Unilateral contusions represent an increasingly popular model for studying the pathways and recovery mechanisms of spinal cord injury (SCI). Current studies rely heavily on motor behavior scoring and histological evidence to make assessments. Electrophysiology represents one way to reliably quantify the functionality of motor pathways. The authors sought to quantify the functional integrity of the bilateral motor and sensory pathways following unilateral SCI by using measurements of motor and somatosensory evoked potentials (MEPs and SSEPs, respectively).


Eighteen rats were randomly divided into 3 groups receiving a mild unilateral contusion, a mild midline contusion, or a laminectomy only (control). Contusions were induced at T-8 using a MASCIS impactor. Electrophysiological analysis, motor behavior scoring, and histological quantifications were then performed to identify relationships among pathway conductivity, motor function, and tissue preservation.


Hindlimb MEPs ipsilateral to the injury showed recovery by Day 28 after injury and corresponded to approximately 61% of spared corticospinal tract (CST) tissue. In contrast, MEPs of the midline-injured group did not recover, and correspondingly > 90% of the CST tissue was damaged. Somatosensory evoked potentials showed only a moderate reduction in amplitude, with no difference in latency for the pathways ipsilateral to injury. Furthermore, these SSEPs were significantly better than those of the midline-injured rats for the same amount of white matter damage.


Motor evoked potential recovery corresponded to the amount of spared CST in unilateral and midline injuries, but motor behavior consistently recovered independent of MEPs. These data support the idea that spared contralateral pathways aid in reducing the functional deficits of injured ipsilateral pathways and further support the idea of CNS plasticity.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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