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Concept: Spinal cord


Brain-machine interfaces (BMIs) provide a new assistive strategy aimed at restoring mobility in severely paralyzed patients. Yet, no study in animals or in human subjects has indicated that long-term BMI training could induce any type of clinical recovery. Eight chronic (3-13 years) spinal cord injury (SCI) paraplegics were subjected to long-term training (12 months) with a multi-stage BMI-based gait neurorehabilitation paradigm aimed at restoring locomotion. This paradigm combined intense immersive virtual reality training, enriched visual-tactile feedback, and walking with two EEG-controlled robotic actuators, including a custom-designed lower limb exoskeleton capable of delivering tactile feedback to subjects. Following 12 months of training with this paradigm, all eight patients experienced neurological improvements in somatic sensation (pain localization, fine/crude touch, and proprioceptive sensing) in multiple dermatomes. Patients also regained voluntary motor control in key muscles below the SCI level, as measured by EMGs, resulting in marked improvement in their walking index. As a result, 50% of these patients were upgraded to an incomplete paraplegia classification. Neurological recovery was paralleled by the reemergence of lower limb motor imagery at cortical level. We hypothesize that this unprecedented neurological recovery results from both cortical and spinal cord plasticity triggered by long-term BMI usage.

Concepts: Spinal cord, Sensory system, Sense, Somatosensory system, Spinal cord injury, Virtual reality, Proprioception, Paraplegia


Patients with spinal cord injury lack the connections between brain and spinal cord circuits that are essential for voluntary movement. Clinical systems that achieve muscle contraction through functional electrical stimulation (FES) have proven to be effective in allowing patients with tetraplegia to regain control of hand movements and to achieve a greater measure of independence in daily activities. In existing clinical systems, the patient uses residual proximal limb movements to trigger pre-programmed stimulation that causes the paralysed muscles to contract, allowing use of one or two basic grasps. Instead, we have developed an FES system in primates that is controlled by recordings made from microelectrodes permanently implanted in the brain. We simulated some of the effects of the paralysis caused by C5 or C6 spinal cord injury by injecting rhesus monkeys with a local anaesthetic to block the median and ulnar nerves at the elbow. Then, using recordings from approximately 100 neurons in the motor cortex, we predicted the intended activity of several of the paralysed muscles, and used these predictions to control the intensity of stimulation of the same muscles. This process essentially bypassed the spinal cord, restoring to the monkeys voluntary control of their paralysed muscles. This achievement is a major advance towards similar restoration of hand function in human patients through brain-controlled FES. We anticipate that in human patients, this neuroprosthesis would allow much more flexible and dexterous use of the hand than is possible with existing FES systems.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Spinal cord, Muscle, Primate, Paralysis, Hand, Ulnar nerve


Following the initial acute stage of spinal cord injury, a cascade of cellular and inflammatory responses will lead to progressive secondary damage of the nerve tissue surrounding the primary injury site. The degeneration is manifested by loss of neurons and glial cells, demyelination and cyst formation. Injury to the mammalian spinal cord results in nearly complete failure of the severed axons to regenerate. We have previously demonstrated that the antioxidants N-acetyl-cysteine (NAC) and acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC) can attenuate retrograde neuronal degeneration after peripheral nerve and ventral root injury. The present study evaluates the effects of NAC and ALC on neuronal survival, axonal sprouting and glial cell reactions after spinal cord injury in adult rats. Tibial motoneurons in the spinal cord were pre-labeled with fluorescent tracer Fast Blue one week before lumbar L5 hemisection. Continuous intrathecal infusion of NAC (2.4 mg/day) or ALC (0.9 mg/day) was initiated immediately after spinal injury using Alzet 2002 osmotic minipumps. Neuroprotective effects of treatment were assessed by counting surviving motoneurons and by using quantitative immunohistochemistry and Western blotting for neuronal and glial cell markers 4 weeks after hemisection. Spinal cord injury induced significant loss of tibial motoneurons in L4-L6 segments. Neuronal degeneration was associated with decreased immunostaining for microtubular-associated protein-2 (MAP2) in dendritic branches, synaptophysin in presynaptic boutons and neurofilaments in nerve fibers. Immunostaining for the astroglial marker GFAP and microglial marker OX42 was increased. Treatment with NAC and ALC rescued approximately half of the motoneurons destined to die. In addition, antioxidants restored MAP2 and synaptophysin immunoreactivity. However, the perineuronal synaptophysin labeling was not recovered. Although both treatments promoted axonal sprouting, there was no effect on reactive astrocytes. In contrast, the microglial reaction was significantly attenuated. The results indicate a therapeutic potential for NAC and ALC in the early treatment of traumatic spinal cord injury.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Spinal cord, Action potential, Axon, Synapse, Myelin, Glial cell


BACKGROUND: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a fatal neurodegenerative disorder, caused by progressive loss of motor neurons. Changes are widespread in the subcortical white matter in ALS. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) detects pathological changes in white matter fibres in vivo, based on alterations in the degree (diffusivity, ADC) and directedness (fractional anisotropy, FA) of proton movement. METHODS: 24 patients with ALS and 24 age-matched controls received 1.5T DTI.FA and ADC were analyzed using statistical parametric mapping. In 15 of the 24 ALS patients, a second DTI was obtained after 6 months. RESULTS: Decreased FA in the corticospinal tract (CST) and frontal areas confirm existing results. With a direct comparison of baseline and follow-up dataset, the progression of upper motor neuron degeneration, reflected in FA decrease, could be captured along the CST and in frontal areas. The involvement of cerebellum in the pathology of ALS, as suspected from functional MRI studies, could be confirmed by a reduced FA (culmen, declive). These structural changes correlated well with disease duration, ALSFRS-R, and physical and executive functions. CONCLUSION: DTI detects changes that are regarded as prominent features of ALS and thus, shows promise in its function as a biomarker. Using the technique herein, we could demonstrate DTI changes at follow-up which correlated well with clinical progression.

Concepts: Spinal cord, Neuroimaging, Magnetic resonance imaging, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Neurodegenerative disorders, Cerebellum, Motor neuron, Stephen Hawking


Cerebrospinal fluid leaks (CSF) result from an abnormal communication between the subarachnoid space and the extracranial space. Approximately 90% of CSF leak at the anterior skull base manifests as rhinorrhea and can become life-threatening condition. Endoscopic sinus surgery (ESS) has become a common otolaryngologist procedure. The aim of this article is to consider our experience and to evaluate the outcomes in patients who underwent a purely endoscopic repair of CSF leaks of the anterior skull base.

Concepts: Spinal cord, Cerebrospinal fluid, Meninges, Spontaneous cerebrospinal fluid leak


Mutations in SOD1 cause hereditary variants of the fatal motor neuron disease amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Pathophysiology of the disease is non-cell-autonomous, with toxicity deriving also from glia. In particular, microglia contribute to disease progression. Methylene blue (MB) inhibits the effect of nitric oxide, which mediates microglial responses to injury. In vivo 2P-LSM imaging was performed in ALS-linked transgenic SOD1(G93A) mice to investigate the effect of MB on microglia-mediated inflammation in the spinal cord. Local superfusion of the lateral spinal cord with MB inhibited the microglial reaction directed at a laser-induced axon transection in control and SOD1(G93A) mice. In vitro, MB at high concentrations inhibited cytokine and chemokine release from microglia of control and advanced clinical SOD1(G93A) mice. Systemic MB-treatment of SOD1(G93A) mice at early preclinical stages significantly delayed disease onset and motor dysfunction. However, an increase of MB dose had no additional effect on disease progression; this was unexpected in view of the local anti-inflammatory effects. Furthermore, in vivo imaging of systemically MB-treated mice also showed no alterations of microglia activity in response to local lesions. Thus although systemic MB treatment had no effect on microgliosis, instead, its use revealed an important influence on motor neuron survival as indicated by an increased number of lumbar anterior horn neurons present at the time of disease onset. Thus, potentially beneficial effects of locally applied MB on inflammatory events contributing to disease progression could not be reproduced in SOD1(G93A) mice via systemic administration, whereas systemic MB application delayed disease onset via neuroprotection.

Concepts: Inflammation, Nervous system, Neuron, Spinal cord, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Anti-inflammatory, Glial cell, Motor neuron


BACKGROUND: A proline-to-serine substitution at position-56 (P56S) of vesicle-associated membrane protein-associated protein B (VAPB) causes a form of dominantly inherited motor neuron disease (MND), including typical and atypical amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and a mild late-onset spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). VAPB is an integral endoplasmic reticulum (ER) protein and has been implicated in various cellular processes, including ER stress, the unfolded protein response (UPR) and Ca2+ homeostasis. However, it is unclear how the P56S mutation leads to neurodegeneration and muscle atrophy in patients. The formation of abnormal VAPB-positive inclusions by mutant VAPB suggests a possible toxic gain of function as an underlying mechanism. Furthermore, the amount of VAPB protein is reported to be reduced in sporadic ALS patients and mutant SOD1G93A mice, leading to the hypothesis that wild type VAPB plays a role in the pathogenesis of ALS without VAPB mutations. RESULTS: To investigate the pathogenic mechanism in vivo, we generated human wild type (wtVAPB) and mutant VAPB (muVAPB) transgenic mice that expressed the transgenes broadly in the CNS. We observed robust VAPB-positive aggregates in the spinal cord of muVAPB transgenic mice. However, we failed to find an impairment of motor function and motor neuron degeneration. We also did not detect any change in the endogenous VAPB level or evidence for induction of the unfolded protein response (UPR) and coaggregation of VAPA with muVAPB. Furthermore, we crossed these VAPB transgenic mice with mice that express mutant SOD1G93A and develop motor neuron degeneration. Overexpression of neither wtVAPB nor muVAPB modulated the protein aggregation and disease progression in the SOD1G93A mice. CONCLUSION: Overexpression of VAPBP56S mutant to approximately two-fold of the endogenous VAPB in mouse spinal cord produced abundant VAPB aggregates but was not sufficient to cause motor dysfunction or motor neuron degeneration. Furthermore, overexpression of either muVAPB or wtVAPB does not modulate the course of ALS in SOD1G93A mice. These results suggest that changes in wild type VAPB do not play a significant role in ALS cases that are not caused by VAPB mutations. Furthermore, these results suggest that muVAPB aggregates are innocuous and do not cause motor neuron degeneration by a gain-of-toxicity, and therefore, a loss of function may be the underlying mechanism.

Concepts: Spinal cord, Mutation, Muscle, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Atrophy, Motor neuron, Motor neurone disease, Motor neuron disease


Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) plays an essential role in maintaining the homeostasis of the central nervous system. The functions of CSF include: (1) buoyancy of the brain, spinal cord, and nerves; (2) volume adjustment in the cranial cavity; (3) nutrient transport; (4) protein or peptide transport; (5) brain volume regulation through osmoregulation; (6) buffering effect against external forces; (7) signal transduction; (8) drug transport; (9) immune system control; (10) elimination of metabolites and unnecessary substances; and finally (11) cooling of heat generated by neural activity. For CSF to fully mediate these functions, fluid-like movement in the ventricles and subarachnoid space is necessary. Furthermore, the relationship between the behaviors of CSF and interstitial fluid in the brain and spinal cord is important. In this review, we will present classical studies on CSF circulation from its discovery over 2,000 years ago, and will subsequently introduce functions that were recently discovered such as CSF production and absorption, water molecule movement in the interstitial space, exchange between interstitial fluid and CSF, and drainage of CSF and interstitial fluid into both the venous and the lymphatic systems. Finally, we will summarize future challenges in research. This review includes articles published up to February 2016.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Psychology, Neuron, Spinal cord, Brain, Cerebrospinal fluid, Meninges


Millions of people worldwide suffer from diseases that lead to paralysis through disruption of signal pathways between the brain and the muscles. Neuroprosthetic devices are designed to restore lost function and could be used to form an electronic ‘neural bypass’ to circumvent disconnected pathways in the nervous system. It has previously been shown that intracortically recorded signals can be decoded to extract information related to motion, allowing non-human primates and paralysed humans to control computers and robotic arms through imagined movements. In non-human primates, these types of signal have also been used to drive activation of chemically paralysed arm muscles. Here we show that intracortically recorded signals can be linked in real-time to muscle activation to restore movement in a paralysed human. We used a chronically implanted intracortical microelectrode array to record multiunit activity from the motor cortex in a study participant with quadriplegia from cervical spinal cord injury. We applied machine-learning algorithms to decode the neuronal activity and control activation of the participant’s forearm muscles through a custom-built high-resolution neuromuscular electrical stimulation system. The system provided isolated finger movements and the participant achieved continuous cortical control of six different wrist and hand motions. Furthermore, he was able to use the system to complete functional tasks relevant to daily living. Clinical assessment showed that, when using the system, his motor impairment improved from the fifth to the sixth cervical (C5-C6) to the seventh cervical to first thoracic (C7-T1) level unilaterally, conferring on him the critical abilities to grasp, manipulate, and release objects. This is the first demonstration to our knowledge of successful control of muscle activation using intracortically recorded signals in a paralysed human. These results have significant implications in advancing neuroprosthetic technology for people worldwide living with the effects of paralysis.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Spinal cord, Brain, Human, Muscle, Primate, Paralysis


Spinal cord injury disrupts the communication between the brain and the spinal circuits that orchestrate movement. To bypass the lesion, brain-computer interfaces have directly linked cortical activity to electrical stimulation of muscles, and have thus restored grasping abilities after hand paralysis. Theoretically, this strategy could also restore control over leg muscle activity for walking. However, replicating the complex sequence of individual muscle activation patterns underlying natural and adaptive locomotor movements poses formidable conceptual and technological challenges. Recently, it was shown in rats that epidural electrical stimulation of the lumbar spinal cord can reproduce the natural activation of synergistic muscle groups producing locomotion. Here we interface leg motor cortex activity with epidural electrical stimulation protocols to establish a brain-spine interface that alleviated gait deficits after a spinal cord injury in non-human primates. Rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) were implanted with an intracortical microelectrode array in the leg area of the motor cortex and with a spinal cord stimulation system composed of a spatially selective epidural implant and a pulse generator with real-time triggering capabilities. We designed and implemented wireless control systems that linked online neural decoding of extension and flexion motor states with stimulation protocols promoting these movements. These systems allowed the monkeys to behave freely without any restrictions or constraining tethered electronics. After validation of the brain-spine interface in intact (uninjured) monkeys, we performed a unilateral corticospinal tract lesion at the thoracic level. As early as six days post-injury and without prior training of the monkeys, the brain-spine interface restored weight-bearing locomotion of the paralysed leg on a treadmill and overground. The implantable components integrated in the brain-spine interface have all been approved for investigational applications in similar human research, suggesting a practical translational pathway for proof-of-concept studies in people with spinal cord injury.

Concepts: Spinal cord, Muscle, Macaque, Primate, Rhesus Macaque, Paralysis, Medulla oblongata, Locomotion