Electrical stimulation of the spinal cord has been found to be effective in helping people with paralysis regain their ability to walk, but the underlying mechanisms behind this therapy are unclear.
A recent study published in Nature identified neurons that promote recovery after paralysis.
In this study, nine patients with severe or total paralysis due to spinal cord injury participated in a clinical trial and were treated with epidural electrical stimulation (EES).
All patients regained or improved ambulation immediately during treatment and showed improvement in mobility after 5 months of EES treatment and rehabilitation.
To find the mechanism behind this improvement, the authors created a mouse model that replicates key features of human EES neurorehabilitation.
In addition, they constructed a single-cell atlas of gene expression for different neurons of the mouse spinal cord.
By combining the above model with the molecular atlas, the authors identified a specific class of excitatory neurons that are important for restoring walking ability after spinal cord injury but are not necessary for walking ability in individuals without spinal cord injury.
The results of the study provide further insight into the mechanisms of EES recovery.
However, the authors also noted that other neurons in the brain and spinal cord can also contribute to the recovery of walking ability, so further studies are still needed.