Reorganization of sensory processing below the level of spinal cord injury as revealed by fMRI

Toshiki Endo, Christian Spenger, Eric Westman, Teiji Tominaga, Lars Olson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


The adult mammalian CNS undergoes plastic changes in response to injury. To investigate such changes in spinal cord, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was applied in rats subjected to complete transection of the mid-thoracic spinal cord. Blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) contrasts were recorded in the distal spinal cord different times after injury (3, 7, and 14 days, and 1, 3, and 6 months) in response to electrical hind limb stimulation. Functional MRI demonstrated a substantial increase of neuronal activation in the ipsilateral dorsal horn after injury. Notably, 0.5 mA, which did not evoke activation in the normal spinal cord and was considered a non-painful stimulus, induced significant BOLD responses in the dorsal horn after injury. Increased sensitivity was also seen in response to 1.0 mA stimulation. Our results suggest exaggerated responsiveness of spinal neurons after spinal cord injury. Reorganization in the injured spinal cord has been shown to involve the amplification of peripheral inputs and implicated as one underlying mechanism causing neuropathic pain and autonomic dysreflexia. Since BOLD signals can demonstrate such plastic changes in spinal cord parenchyma, we propose fMRI as a method to monitor functional reorganization in the spinal cord after injury. Combining brain and spinal cord fMRI allows the visualization of neuronal activities along the entire neuroaxis and thereby an evaluation of the different plastic responses to CNS injuries that occur in the brain and the spinal cord.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)155-160
Number of pages6
JournalExperimental Neurology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008 Jan


  • BOLD contrast
  • Plasticity
  • Rat
  • Spinal cord fMRI
  • Spinal cord injury


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