Activity-based Training on a Treadmill with Spinal Cord Injured Wistar Rats.


Department of Anatomical Sciences and Neurobiology, University of Louisville; Kentucky Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Center, University of Louisville; [Email]


Spinal cord injury (SCI) results in lasting deficits that include both mobility and a multitude of autonomic-related dysfunctions. Locomotor training (LT) on a treadmill is widely used as a rehabilitation tool in the SCI population with many benefits and improvements to daily life. We utilize this method of activity-based task-specific training (ABT) in rodents after SCI to both elucidate the mechanisms behind such improvements and to enhance and improve upon existing clinical rehabilitation protocols. Our current goal is to determine the mechanisms underlying ABT-induced improvements in urinary, bowel, and sexual function in SCI rats after a moderate to severe level of contusion. After securing each individual animal in a custom-made adjustable vest, they are secured to a versatile body weight support mechanism, lowered to a modified three-lane treadmill and assisted in step-training for 58 minutes, once a day for 10 weeks. This setup allows for the training of both quadrupedal and forelimb-only animals, alongside two different non-trained groups. Quadrupedal-trained animals with body weight support are aided by a technician present to assist in stepping with proper hind limb placement as necessary, while forelimb-only trained animals are raised at the caudal end to ensure no hind limb contact with the treadmill and no weight-bearing. One non-trained SCI group of animals is placed in a harness and rests next to the treadmill, while the other control SCI group remains in its home cage in the training room nearby. This paradigm allows for the training of multiple SCI animals at once, thus making it more time-efficient in addition to ensuring that our pre-clinical animal model mimics the clinical representation as close as possible, particularly with respect to the body weight support with manual assistance.