Plasticity following spinal cord injury (SCI) refers to functional and/or anatomical changes that occur spontaneously, or are driven by therapeutic interventions. It is possible that these will become permanent without any further action. For example, some limited spontaneous functional improvements can occur following SCI.
Using a range of neuroanatomical, neurophysiological and behavioral approaches, investigators in the Spinal Cord Research Center (SCRC) are exploring how neural circuitry controlling motor and sensory function is affected by SCI and how treatments can be used to promote repair. Although typically thought of as being beneficial – or ‘adaptive’ – changes, there is some potential for plasticity to have negative – or maladaptive – consequences, such as increased pain or spasticity. Ongoing research within the SCRC is focusing on neuroplastic changes in:
• locomotion (John Houle, Simon Giszter, Marie-Pascale Côté, Kim Dougherty)
• upper extremity (arm) function (John Houle, Marie-Pascale Côté, Veronica Tom, Michael Lane, Megan Detloff)
• neuropathic pain and sensory dysfunction (Megan Detloff, Itzhak Fischer, Ying Jin)
• respiration (Michael Lane, Tatiana Bezdudnaya, Vitaliy Marchenko)
• autonomic dysreflexia and bladder function (Shaoping Hou, Veronica Tom)
These changes also are being studied using the latest in computational modeling (Ilya Rybak). Using knowledge gained from clinical collaborations, and from experimental and computational models, our research aims to identify the time-course and extent of plasticity and how the associated changes represent therapeutic targets for further enhancing recovery.