Spinal cord direct current stimulation (sDCS) has the potential for promoting motor function after injury through its modulatory actions on sensory processing, reflex functions, the motor cortex (M1) motor map, and motor output. Here we addressed systems-level mechanisms underlying sDCS neuromodulation of spinal circuits activated by M1 and peripheral forelimb electrical stimulation in anesthetized healthy rats. We determined the effects of cathodal and anodal sDCS (c- and a-sDCS) on local field potentials (LFP) and single-unit activity recorded at 32 sites simultaneously within the sixth cervical segment using a silicon multielectrode array. M1 stimulation produced distinctive dorsomedial and ventral LFP responses that showed polarity-dependent sDCS modulation. c-sDCS enhanced and a-sDCS depressed significantly ventral M1 responses; neither modulated dorsal responses significantly. Using evoked changes in β- and γ-oscillations to assay network function, c-sDCS enhanced and a-sDCS reduced oscillation power ventrally. c-sDCS increased and a-sDCS decreased background firing and firing synchrony of recorded pairs of single units. Peripheral stimulation produced a region-dependent response that showed polarity-dependent sDCS modulation. The dorsomedial LFP was unaffected by c-sDCS and weakly suppressed with a-sDCS. Peripheral-evoked unit responses showed limited polarity dependence. Our findings stress that ventral motor network behavior is enhanced by the neuromodulatory actions of c-sDCS. The combined actions of c-sDCS on M1-evoked neural responses and network behavior in the cervical spinal cord help explain the reported enhanced motor effects of this neuromodulation approach and inform the mechanisms of sDCS for promoting motor rehabilitation after spinal cord or brain injury.
NEW & NOTEWORTHY Spinal cord direct current stimulation (sDCS) modulates spinal functions and shows potential for neural rehabilitation after motor systems injury. Using a multichannel electrode array, we found that cathodal DCS enhanced, and anodal depressed, M1-evoked local field potentials, network oscillations, neuronal activity, and neuronal synchrony, especially in the ventral horn. With this new understanding, it is hoped that sDCS can be developed into a tunable spinal neuromodulatory tool for promoting function after brain or spinal injury.
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