Treadmill step training promotes spinal cord neural plasticity after incomplete spinal cord injury**

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Abstract

A large body of evidence shows that spinal circuits are significantly affected by training, and that intrinsic circuits that drive locomotor tasks are located in lumbosacral spinal segments in rats with complete spinal cord transection. However, after incomplete lesions, the effect of treadmill training has been debated, which is likely because of the difficulty of separating spontaneous stepping from specific training-induced effects. In this study, rats with moderate spinal cord contusion were jected to either step training on a treadmill or used in the model (control) group. The treadmill training began at day 7 post-injury and lasted 20 ± 10 minutes per day, 5 days per week for 10 weeks. The speed of the treadmill was set to 3 m/min and was increased on a daily basis according to the tolerance of each rat. After 3 weeks of step training, the step training group exhibited a significantly greater improvement in the Basso, Beattie and Bresnahan score than the model group. The expression of growth-associated protein-43 in the spinal cord lesion site and the number of tyrosine hydroxylase-positive ventral neurons in the second lumbar spinal segment were greater in the step training group than in the model group at 11 weeks post-injury, while the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor protein in the spinal cord lesion site showed no difference between the two groups. These results suggest that treadmill training significantly improves functional recovery and neural plasticity after incomplete spinal cord injury.

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