Characterization of a sacral dorsal column pathway activating autonomic and hindlimb motor pattern generation

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Anderson, JoAnna Todd
DeWeerth, Stephen P.
Hochman, Shawn
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Spinal cord injuries (SCI) sever communication between supraspinal centers and the central pattern generator (CPG) responsible for locomotion. Because the CPG is intact and retains the ability to initiate locomotor activity, it can be accessed electrically and pharmacologically. The goal of this thesis was to identify and characterize a novel spinal cord surface site along the sacral dorsal column (sDC) for electrically evoking locomotor-like activity in the neonatal rat spinal cord. Stimulation of the sDC robustly activated rhythmic left-right alternation in flexor-related ventral roots that was dependent on the activation of high-threshold C fiber afferents. The C fibers synapsed onto spinal neurons, which project to the lumbar segments as part of a pathway dependent on purinergic, adrenergic, and cholinergic receptor activation. In ventral roots containing only somatic efferents, rhythmic activity was rarely recruited. However, in ventral roots containing both autonomic and somatic efferents, sacral dorsal column stimulation recruited autonomic efferent rhythms, which subsequently recruited somatic efferent motor rhythms. The efferent rhythms revealed a half-center organization with very low stimulation frequencies, and the evoked alternating bursts entrained to the stimuli. Similar entrainment was seen when sDC stimuli were applied during ongoing neurochemically-induced locomotor rhythms. The rhythmic patterns evoked by sDC stimulation operated over a limited frequency range, with a discrete burst structure of fast-onset, frequency-independent peaks. In comparison, neurochemically-induced locomotor bursts operated over a wide frequency range and had slower time to peaks that varied with burst frequency. The overall findings support the discovery of an autonomic efferent pattern generator that is recruited by sacral visceral C fiber afferents. It is hoped that this research will advance the understanding of afferent activation of the lumbar central pattern generator and potentially provide insight useful for future development and design of neuroprosthetic devices.
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