Uncontrollable stimulation undermines recovery after spinal cord injury. Academic Article uri icon


  • Prior studies have shown that neurons within the spinal cord are sensitive to response-outcome relations, a form of instrumental learning. Spinally transected rats that receive shock to one hind leg learn to maintain the leg in a flexed position that minimizes net shock exposure (controllable shock). Prior exposure to uncontrollable stimulation (intermittent shock) inhibits this spinally mediated learning. Here it is shown that uncontrollable stimulation undermines the recovery of function after a spinal contusion injury. Rats received a moderate injury (12.5 mm drop) and recovery was monitored for 6 weeks. In Experiment 1, rats received varying amounts of intermittent tailshock 1-2 days after injury. Just 6 min of intermittent shock impaired locomotor recovery. In Experiment 2, rats were shocked 1, 4, or 14 days after injury. Delaying the application of shock exposure reduced its negative effect on recovery. In Experiment 3, rats received controllable or uncontrollable shock 24 and 48 h after injury. Only uncontrollable shock disrupted recovery of locomotor function. Uncontrollably shocked rats also exhibited higher vocalization thresholds to aversive stimuli (heat and shock) applied below the injury. Across the three experiments, exposure to uncontrollable shock, (1) delayed the recovery of bladder function; (2) led to greater mortality and spasticity; and (3) increased tissue loss (white and gray matter) in the region of the injury. The results indicate that uncontrollable stimulation impairs recovery after spinal cord injury and suggest that reducing sources of uncontrolled afferent input (e.g., from peripheral tissue injury) could benefit patient recovery.

published proceedings

  • J Neurotrauma

author list (cited authors)

  • Grau, J. W., Washburn, S. N., Hook, M. A., Ferguson, A. R., Crown, E. D., Garcia, G., Bolding, K. A., & Miranda, R. C.

citation count

  • 82

complete list of authors

  • Grau, James W||Washburn, Stephanie N||Hook, Michelle A||Ferguson, Adam R||Crown, Eric D||Garcia, Guadalupe||Bolding, Kevin A||Miranda, Rajesh C

publication date

  • December 2004