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Training May Aid Plasticity in Rats with Spinal Injury

Training improves injured animals' ability to perform trained reaching task, but not an untrained task

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 2 (HealthDay News) -- In rats with partial spinal cord injury, reaching training promotes recovery of the trained task by enhancing plasticity in the central nervous system, but may impede the ability to perform an untrained task, according to research published in the January issue of Brain.

Jacklyn Girgis, of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and colleagues studied two groups of adult rats with a cervical spinal cord injury: one group received six weeks of training in a single pellet reaching task immediately after injury, and the other group did not receive training.

The researchers found that trained rats had an improved ability to perform the reaching task compared to the untrained rats. The investigators also observed an expansion of the cortical area where wrist movements could be evoked by micro-stimulation, increased collateral sprouting of lesioned corticospinal tract fibers rostral to the injury, and increased cortical levels of GAP-43, but not BDNF, in trained rats. However, trained rats performed significantly worse with their injured forelimb when walking on a horizontal ladder.

"Thus, our study supports the idea of increased post-injury patient care, to provide intensive physical therapy, as large benefits may be achieved in patients," the authors conclude. "Task specific training, however, might come at the price of reduced function in untrained tasks indicating that training of a range of tasks might be more beneficial."

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