Spinal inhibition and motor function in adults with spastic cerebral palsy

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Reduced inhibition of spinal motoneurons by sensory pathways may contribute to heightened reflex activity, spasticity and impaired motor function in individuals with cerebral palsy (CP). To measure if the activation of inhibitory post-synaptic potentials (IPSPs) by sensory inputs is reduced in CP, the tonic discharge rate of single motor units from the soleus muscle was plotted time-locked to the occurrence of a sensory stimulation to produce peri-stimulus frequencygrams (PSFs). Stimulation to the medial arch of the foot was used to activate cutaneomuscular afferents in 17 adults with bilateral spastic CP and 15 neurologically intact (NI) peers. Evidence of IPSP activation from the PSF profiles, namely a marked pause or reduction in motor unit firing rates at the onset of the cutaneomuscular reflex, was found in all NI participants but in only half of participants with CP. In the other half of the participants with CP, stimulation of cutaneomuscular afferents produced a PSF profile indicative of a pure excitatory post-synaptic potential, with firing rates increasing above the mean pre-stimulus rate for 300 ms or more. The amplitude of motoneuron inhibition during the period of IPSP activation, as measured from the surface EMG, was less in participants with poor motor function as evaluated with the Gross Motor Functional Classification System (r = 0.72, P < 0.001) and the Functional Mobility Scale (r = −0.82, P < 0.001). These findings demonstrate that in individuals with CP, reduced activation of motoneuron IPSPs by sensory inputs is associated with reduced motor function and may contribute to enhanced reflexes and spasticity in CP.

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