Intraspinal microstimulation (ISMS) using implanted electrodes can evoke locomotor movements after spinal cord injury (SCI) but has not been explored in the context of respiratory motor output. An advantage over epidural and direct muscle stimulation is the potential of ISMS to selectively stimulate components of the spinal respiratory network. The present study tested the hypothesis that medullary respiratory activity could be used to trigger midcervical ISMS and diaphragm motor unit activation in rats with cervical SCI. Studies were conducted after acute (hours) and subacute (5–21 days) C2 hemisection (C2Hx) injury in adult rats. Inspiratory bursting in the genioglossus (tongue) muscle was used to trigger a 250-ms train stimulus (100 Hz, 100–200 μA) to the ventral C4 spinal cord, targeting the phrenic motor nucleus. After both acute and subacute injury, genioglossus EMG activity effectively triggered ISMS and activated diaphragm motor units during the inspiratory phase. The ISMS paradigm also evoked short-term potentiation of spontaneous inspiratory activity in the previously paralyzed hemidiaphragm (i.e., bursting persisting beyond the stimulus period) in ∼70% of the C2Hx animals. We conclude that medullary inspiratory output can be used to trigger cervical ISMS and diaphragm activity after SCI. Further refinement of this method may enable “closed-loop-like” ISMS approaches to sustain ventilation after severe SCI.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY We examined the feasibility of using intraspinal microstimulation (ISMS) of the cervical spinal cord to evoke diaphragm activity ipsilateral to acute and subacute hemisection of the upper cervical spinal cord of the rat. This proof-of-concept study demonstrated the efficacy of diaphragm activation, using an upper airway respiratory EMG signal to trigger ISMS at the level of the ipsilesional phrenic nucleus during acute and advanced postinjury intervals.
- phrenic motor nucleus
- hypoglossal respiratory activity
- diaphragm function
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