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J Neurophysiol. 2018 Dec 1;120(6):3172-3186. doi: 10.1152/jn.00509.2017. Epub 2018 Sep 12.

Effect of cervicolumbar coupling on spinal reflexes during cycling after incomplete spinal cord injury.

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Neuroscience and Mental Health Institute, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta , Edmonton, Alberta , Canada.
Sensory Motor Adaptive Rehabilitation Technology (SMART) Network, University of Alberta , Edmonton, Alberta , Canada.
Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta , Edmonton, Alberta , Canada.


Spinal networks in the cervical and lumbar cord are actively coupled during locomotion to coordinate arm and leg activity. The goals of this project were to investigate the intersegmental cervicolumbar connectivity during cycling after incomplete spinal cord injury (iSCI) and to assess the effect of rehabilitation training on improving reflex modulation mediated by cervicolumbar pathways. Two studies were conducted. In the first, 22 neurologically intact (NI) people and 10 people with chronic iSCI were recruited. The change in H-reflex amplitude in flexor carpi radialis (FCR) during leg cycling and H-reflex amplitude in soleus (SOL) during arm cycling were investigated. In the second study, two groups of participants with chronic iSCI underwent 12 wk of cycling training: one performed combined arm and leg cycling (A&L) and the other legs only cycling (Leg). The effect of training paradigm on the amplitude of the SOL H-reflex was assessed. Significant reduction in the amplitude of both FCR and SOL H-reflexes during dynamic cycling of the opposite limbs was found in NI participants but not in participants with iSCI. Nonetheless, there was a significant reduction in the SOL H-reflex during dynamic arm cycling in iSCI participants after training. Substantial improvements in SOL H-reflex properties were found in the A&L group after training. The results demonstrate that cervicolumbar modulation during rhythmic movements is disrupted in people with chronic iSCI; however, this modulation is restored after cycling training. Furthermore, involvement of the arms simultaneously with the legs during training may better regulate the leg spinal reflexes. NEW & NOTEWORTHY This work systematically demonstrates the disruptive effect of incomplete spinal cord injury on cervicolumbar coupling during rhythmic locomotor movements. It also shows that the impaired cervicolumbar coupling could be significantly restored after cycling training. Actively engaging the arms in rehabilitation paradigms for the improvement of walking substantially regulates the excitability of the lumbar spinal networks. The resulting regulation may be better than that obtained by interventions that focus on training of the legs only.


H-reflex; arm and leg cycling; interlimb coordination; locomotor training

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