Because research on spinal cord stimulation in animals has been limited to the stimulation's acute effects, in the current study, Nicolelis and his colleagues investigated the long-term effects of the treatment in rats with the Parkinson's-like disease.
For six weeks, the researchers applied electrical stimulation to a particular location in the dorsal column of the rats' spinal cords twice a week for 30-minute sessions. They observed a significant improvement in the rats' symptoms, including improved motor skills and a reversal of severe weight loss.
In addition to the recovery in clinical symptoms, the stimulation was associated with better survival of neurons and a higher density of dopaminergic innervation in two brain regions controlling movement the loss of which cause Parkinson's disease in humans. The findings suggest that the treatment protects against the loss or damage of neurons.
Clinicians are currently using a similar application of dorsal column stimulation to manage certain chronic pain syndromes in humans. Electrodes implanted over the spinal cord are connected to a portable generator, which produces electrical signals that create a tingling sensation to relieve pain. Studies in a small number of humans worldwide have shown that dorsal column stimulation may also be effective in restoring motor function in people with Parkinson's disease.
"This is still a limited number of cases, so studies like ours are important in examining the basic science behind the treatment and the potential mechanisms of why it is effective," Nicolelis said.
The researchers are co
|Contact: Rachel Harrison|
Duke University Medical Center