Treadmill training induced lumbar motoneuron dendritic plasticity and behavior recovery in adult rats after a thoracic contusive spinal cord injury

Hongxing Wang, Nai Kui Liu, Yi Ping Zhang, Lingxiao Deng, Qing Bo Lu, Christopher B. Shields, Melissa J. Walker, Jianan Li, Xiao Ming Xu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

26 Scopus citations


Spinal cord injury (SCI) is devastating, causing sensorimotor impairments and paralysis. Persisting functional limitations on physical activity negatively affect overall health in individuals with SCI. Physical training may improve motor function by affecting cellular and molecular responses of motor pathways in the central nervous system (CNS) after SCI. Although motoneurons form the final common path for motor output from the CNS, little is known concerning the effect of exercise training on spared motoneurons below the level of injury. Here we examined the effect of treadmill training on morphological, trophic, and synaptic changes in the lumbar motoneuron pool and on behavior recovery after a moderate contusive SCI inflicted at the 9th thoracic vertebral level (T9) using an Infinite Horizon (IH, 200 kDyne) impactor. We found that treadmill training significantly improved locomotor function, assessed by Basso-Beattie-Bresnahan (BBB) locomotor rating scale, and reduced foot drops, assessed by grid walking performance, as compared with non-training. Additionally, treadmill training significantly increased the total neurite length per lumbar motoneuron innervating the soleus and tibialis anterior muscles of the hindlimbs as compared to non-training. Moreover, treadmill training significantly increased the expression of a neurotrophin brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the lumbar motoneurons as compared to non-training. Finally, treadmill training significantly increased synaptic density, identified by synaptophysin immunoreactivity, in the lumbar motoneuron pool as compared to non-training. However, the density of serotonergic terminals in the same regions did not show a significant difference between treadmill training and non-training. Thus, our study provides a biological basis for exercise training as an effective medical practice to improve recovery after SCI. Such an effect may be mediated by synaptic plasticity, and neurotrophic modification in the spared lumbar motoneuron pool caudal to a thoracic contusive SCI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)368-378
Number of pages11
JournalExperimental Neurology
StatePublished - Sep 1 2015


  • BDNF
  • Dendrites
  • Motoneurons
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Synaptic density
  • Treadmill training

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience

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