Adaptation of a ladder beam walking task to assess locomotor recovery in mice following spinal cord injury

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Abstract

Locomotor impairments after spinal cord injury (SCI) are often assessed using open-field rating scales. These tasks have the advantage of spanning the range from complete paralysis to normal walking; however, they lack sensitivity at specific levels of recovery. Additionally, most supplemental assessments were developed in rats, not mice. For example, the horizontal ladder beam has been used to measure recovery in the rat after SCI. This parametric task results in a videotaped archival record of the event, is easily administered, and is unambiguously scored. Although a ladder beam apparatus for mice is available, its use in the assessment of recovery in SCI mice is rare, possibly because normative data for uninjured mice and the type of step misplacements injured mice exhibit is lacking. We report the development of a modified ladder beam instrument and scoring system to measure hindlimb recovery in vertebral T9 contusion spinal cord injured mice. The mouse ladder beam allows for the use of standard parametric statistical tests to assess locomotor recovery. Ladder beam performance is consistent across four strains of mice, there are no sex differences, and inter-rater reliability between observers is high. The ladder beam score is proportional to injury severity and can be used to easily separate mice capable of weight-supported stance up to mice with consistent forelimb to hindlimb coordination. Critically, horizontal ladder beam testing discriminates between mice that score identically in terms of stepping frequency in open-field testing.

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