Long-term paired associative stimulation for restoration of motor function after spinal cord injury

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Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a devastating condition and consequent loss of motor control remains one of the main causes of disability. Motor recovery after SCI depends on the amount of spared and restored neural connections in the spinal cord. Most SCIs are incomplete and even neurologically complete injuries possess some spared neural connections. Damaged motor pathways can be reactivated by external stimulation. However, current treatment approaches are mainly palliative, such as assisting adaptation to impairments. Thus, there is a need for novel therapies to induce neuroplasticity in the spinal cord and strengthen weak and disrupted neural connections. In this thesis, paired associative stimulation (PAS) was applied as a long-term treatment for chronic incomplete SCI of traumatic origin. PAS is a non-invasive neuromodulation paradigm where descending volleys induced by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) of the motor cortex are timed to coincide with antidromic volleys elicited by peripheral nerve electrical stimulation (PNS). The stimulation protocol was designed to coincide TMS- and PNS-induced volleys at the cortico-motoneuronal synapses in the spinal cord. Continuous pairing of TMS and PNS stimuli can change synaptic efficacy and produce long-term potentiation (LTP)-like plasticity in the corticospinal tract. Augmentation of synaptic strength at the spinal level has clear therapeutic value for SCI, as it can enhance motor control over paralyzed muscles. The aim of the thesis was to investigate the possible therapeutic effects of long-term PAS on hand and leg motor function in individuals with chronic incomplete SCI of traumatic origin. Study I explored long-term PAS therapeutic potential by providing long-term PAS until full recovery of hand muscle strength or until improvements ceased. The PAS protocol was designed to coincide TMS- and PNS-induced volleys in the cervical spinal cord, which is both the location of the stimulated lower motor neuron cell bodies and the site of the injury. Improvements up to normal values of hand muscle strength (Manual Muscle Test [MMT]) and increased amplitude of motor evoked potentials (MEPs) were obtained after more than 1-year stimulation in a participant with SCI. The participant regained almost complete self-care of the upper body. This was the first demonstration of restoring normal strength and range of movement of individual hand muscles by means of long-term PAS. The effect persisted over 6 months of follow up. Study II probed the effects of long-term PAS on leg muscle strength and walking in a group of five people with SCI. The PAS protocol was designed to coincide TMS- and PNS-induced volleys in the lumbar spinal cord but the site of the injury was in the cervical spinal cord. Long-term PAS delivered for 2 months significantly increased the total lower limb MMT score. This effect was stable over a 1-month follow up. Walking speed increased after 2 months of PAS in all participants. This study was the first demonstration that long-term PAS may significantly increase leg muscle strength and affect walking. The MMT score prior to the intervention was a good predictor of changes in walking speed. Study III developed a novel technique that enables probing neural excitability at the cervical spinal level by utilizing focal magnetic coil and anatomy-specific models for re-positioning of the coil. The technique enabled recording of highly reproducible MEPs and was suitable for accurate maintenance and retrieval of the focal coil position at the cervical level. In summary, this thesis contributes to the understanding of therapeutic efficacy of long-term PAS for restoration of motor control over hand and leg muscles after chronic SCI. This work challenges the view that chronic SCI is an irreversible pathologic condition and demonstrates the possibility of restoring neurological function many years postinjury when spontaneous recovery is extremely rare. The increased amplitude of MEPs, sustainable motor improvements, and the effects observed regardless of injury location indicate that PAS induces stable changes in the corticospinal pathways.
  • Mäkelä, Jyrki, Handledare
  • Shulga, Anastasia, Handledare
Tryckta ISBN978-951-51-6062-1
Elektroniska ISBN978-951-51-6063-8
StatusPublicerad - 2020
MoE-publikationstypG5 Doktorsavhandling (artikel)

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  • 3112 Neurovetenskaper
  • 3124 Neurologi och psykiatri

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