Mechanisms of motor deficits (e.g. hemiparesis and hemiplegia) secondary to stroke and traumatic brain injury remain poorly understood. In early animal studies, a unilateral lesion to the cerebellum produced postural asymmetry with ipsilateral hindlimb flexion that was retained after complete spinal cord transection. Here we demonstrate that hindlimb postural asymmetry in rats is induced by a unilateral injury of the hindlimb sensorimotor cortex, and characterize this phenomenon as a model of spinal neuroplasticity underlying asymmetric motor deficits. After cortical lesion, the asymmetry was developed due to the contralesional hindlimb flexion and persisted after decerebration and complete spinal cord transection. The asymmetry induced by the left-side brain injury was eliminated by bilateral lumbar dorsal rhizotomy, but surprisingly, the asymmetry after the right-side brain lesion was resistant to deafferentation. Pancuronium, a curare-mimetic muscle relaxant, abolished the asymmetry after the right-side lesion suggesting its dependence on the efferent drive. The contra- and ipsilesional hindlimbs displayed different musculo-articular resistance to stretch after the left but not right-side injury. The nociceptive withdrawal reflexes evoked by electrical stimulation and recorded with EMG technique were different between the left and right hindlimbs in the spinalized decerebrate rats. On this asymmetric background, a brain injury resulted in greater reflex activation on the contra- versus ipsilesional side; the difference between the limbs was higher after the right-side brain lesion. The unilateral brain injury modified expression of neuroplasticity genes analysed as readout of plastic changes, as well as robustly impaired coordination of their expression within and between the ipsi- and contralesional halves of lumbar spinal cord; the effects were more pronounced after the left side compared to the right-side injury. Our data suggest that changes in the hindlimb posture, resistance to stretch and nociceptive withdrawal reflexes are encoded by neuroplastic processes in lumbar spinal circuits induced by a unilateral brain injury. Two mechanisms, one dependent on and one independent of afferent input may mediate asymmetric hindlimb motor responses. The latter, deafferentation resistant mechanism may be based on sustained muscle contractions which often occur in patients with central lesions and which are not evoked by afferent stimulation. The unusual feature of these mechanisms is their lateralization in the spinal cord.
Subject classification (UKÄ)
- brain injury
- hindlimb motor deficits
- nociceptive withdrawal reflexes
- postural asymmetry