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Abstract

A spinal cord injury usually spares some components of the locomotor circuitry. Deep brain stimulation (DBS) of the midbrain locomotor region and epidural electrical stimulation of the lumbar spinal cord (EES) are being used to tap into this spared circuitry to enable locomotion in humans with spinal cord injury. While appealing, the potential synergy between DBS and EES remains unknown. Here, we report the synergistic facilitation of locomotion when DBS is combined with EES in a rat model of severe contusion spinal cord injury leading to leg paralysis. However, this synergy requires high amplitudes of DBS, which triggers forced locomotion associated with stress responses. To suppress these undesired responses, we link DBS to the intention to walk, decoded from cortical activity using a robust, rapidly calibrated unsupervised learning algorithm. This contingency amplifies the supraspinal descending command while empowering the rats into volitional walking. However, the resulting improvements may not outweigh the complex technological framework necessary to establish viable therapeutic conditions. Deep brain stimulation and epidural electrical stimulation of the spinal cord enable locomotion in humans with spinal cord injury (SCI) but the potential synergy between both approaches is unclear. The authors show that a complex technological approach is required to enable volitional walking in rats with SCI.

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