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Neural Regen Res. 2015 Apr;10(4):509-13. doi: 10.4103/1673-5374.155425.

Structural and functional reorganization of propriospinal connections promotes functional recovery after spinal cord injury.

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Laboratory for Sensorimotor Function, Department of Neurology, University Hospital Zurich, 8091 Zurich, Switzerland.
Brain Research Institute, University of Zurich and Department of Health Sciences and Technology, ETH Zurich, 8057, Zurich, Switzerland.


Axonal regeneration and fiber regrowth is limited in the adult central nervous system, but research over the last decades has revealed a high intrinsic capacity of brain and spinal cord circuits to adapt and reorganize after smaller injuries or denervation. Short-distance fiber growth and synaptic rewiring was found in cortex, brain stem and spinal cord and could be associated with restoration of sensorimotor functions that were impaired by the injury. Such processes of structural plasticity were initially observed in the corticospinal system following spinal cord injury or stroke, but recent studies showed an equally high potential for structural and functional reorganization in reticulospinal, rubrospinal or propriospinal projections. Here we review the lesion-induced plastic changes in the propriospinal pathways, and we argue that they represent a key mechanism triggering sensorimotor recovery upon incomplete spinal cord injury. The formation or strengthening of spinal detour pathways bypassing supraspinal commands around the lesion site to the denervated spinal cord were identified as prominent neural substrate inducing substantial motor recovery in different species from mice to primates. Indications for the existence of propriospinal bypasses were also found in humans after cortical stroke. It is mandatory for current research to dissect the biological mechanisms underlying spinal circuit remodeling and to investigate how these processes can be stimulated in an optimal way by therapeutic interventions (e.g., fiber-growth enhancing interventions, rehabilitation). This knowledge will clear the way for the development of novel strategies targeting the remarkable plastic potential of propriospinal circuits to maximize functional recovery after spinal cord injury.


compensation; fiber sprouting; neural plasticity; neural repair; propriospinal detours; propriospinal system; regeneration; spinal cord injury

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