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Re-Routing Spinal Cord Signals Restores Movement in Paralyzed Rats
Date:5/31/2012

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, May 31 (HealthDay News) -- In research that hints at new ways to tackle paralysis, a combination of drugs, electrical stimulation and "willpower-based training" prompted paralyzed rats to walk and even run.

But experts noted the treatment might not necessarily work in humans.

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology re-routed signals from the rats' brains to their spinal cords with chemical injections, electrodes and a chocolate reward that motivated them to walk voluntarily, supporting their entire weight on their hind legs.

"We expected that the rats would recover some degree of locomotor functions. We were, however, surprised about the extent of the recovery -- paralyzed rats were able to pass obstacles and run up stairs -- and the consistency with which we observed it," said study co-author Janine Heutschi, a doctoral student at the institute.

"Because the rats actively participate in the tasks, as opposed to automated movements, the brain is actively involved and is challenged to find new ways of controlling the hind limbs," she added. "Over time, new nerve connections are then formed."

The study findings are published in the June 1 issue of the journal Science.

About half of human spinal cord injuries lead to paralysis, which can be complete or partial. While the brain and spinal cord can often adapt and recover from moderate injury through a quality known as neuroplasticity, severe injuries can preclude recovery, the study authors noted.

In the new research, begun five years ago at the University of Zurich in Switzerland, rats with severed spinal cords were injected with chemicals known as monoamine agonists that replace the neurotransmitters dopamine, adrenaline and serotonin, which are released from the brains of healthy individuals to help coordinate lower body movement. About 10 minutes later, the
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