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Nat Rev Neurol. 2010 Mar;6(3):167-74. doi: 10.1038/nrneurol.2009.227. Epub 2010 Jan 26.

Behavior of spinal neurons deprived of supraspinal input.

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Spinal Cord Injury Center, Balgrist University Hospital, Forchstrasse 340, 8008 Z├╝rich, Switzerland.


This Review discusses the spinal neuronal changes that occur after a complete spinal cord injury (SCI) in humans. Early after an SCI, neither locomotor nor spinal reflex activity can be evoked. Once spinal shock has resolved, locomotor activity and an early spinal reflex component reappear in response to appropriate peripheral afferent input. In the subsequent 4-8 months, clinical signs of spasticity appear, largely as a result of non-neuronal (for example, muscular) changes, whereas locomotor and spinal reflex activity undergo little change. At 9-12 months, the electromyographic amplitude in the leg muscles during assisted locomotion declines, accompanied by a decrease in the amplitude of the early spinal reflex component and an increase in the amplitude of a late spinal reflex component. This exhaustion of locomotor activity also occurs in nonambulatory patients with incomplete SCI. Neuronal dysfunction is fully established 1 year after the injury without further alterations in subsequent years. In chronic SCI, the absence of input from supraspinal sources has been suggested to lead to degradation of neuronal function below the level of the lesion or, alternatively, a predominance of inhibitory signaling to the locomotor pattern generator. Appropriate training and/or provision of afferent input to spinal neurons might help to prevent neuronal dysfunction in chronic SCI.

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