Respiratory dysfunction is one of the most devastating and life-threatening deficits that occur following cervical spinal cord injury (SCI) . While there is evidence for some spontaneous functional improvement – or neuroplasticity – post-SCI, the extent of recovery is limited and deficits persist. Thus, there is an urgent need to develop and optimize treatments capable of restoring voluntary control of breathing in injured individuals. One promising treatment strategy that has been used extensively to treat non-respiratory deficits post-SCI is neural stimulation (e.g. functional electrical stimulation, epidural stimulation). Neural stimulation has been employed to treat a range of post-injury deficits (e.g. locomotor, cardiac, respiratory and lower urinary tract dysfunction, and manage post-injury pain) and has been shown to promote neuroplasticity and functional recovery [2-4]. Building upon the therapeutic benefits of neural stimulation shown experimentally and clinically, the primary goal of the current project is to assess whether stimulation of either the diaphragm (Aim 1) or forelimb muscles (Aim 2) can enhance spinal respiratory plasticity and functional recovery in a rodent model of high cervical SCI.
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