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Electrical stimulation.

Kennedy Krieger's International Center for Spinal Cord Injury ( has released its latest research update, which includes information from two recent studies looking at electrical stimulation to promote central nervous system (CNS) repair.

Electrical stimulation is currently used to promote recovery of function and control following nervous-system injury or disease, but researchers now are investigating it and the birth of endogenous neural progenitor cells in white matter tracts of the spinal cord. The birth of these cells is thought to be CNS's attempt to repair itself in response to injury.

Both studies investigate the fate of these progenitor cells and reportedly provide evidence that a percentage of these cells become myelinating cells of the CNS, or oligodendrocytes. By restoring these oligodendrocytes, scientists hope people with multiple sclerosis (MS) or spinal-cord injury (SCI) will regain lost myelin and subsequently sensation, movement, cognition, and other functions impaired by these conditions.

As a therapeutic tool, electrical stimulation is being used in innovative ways to promote recovery of function following nervous-system injury or disease. It can restore control and offset atrophy to muscles after injury and has a variety of therapeutic applications in the clinical setting. The International Center for Spinal Cord Injury (ICSCI) at Kennedy Krieger Institute is one of the first facilities in the world to combine innovative research with a unique focus on restoration and rehabilitation for children and adults with chronic paralysis.

Founded in 2005 by neurologist John McDonald, MD, PhD, an expert on the treatment of paralysis, ICSCI researchers are conducting numerous studies in the field of paralysis treatment.

Study Number One Published in Neuroscience Letters ("Electrical Stimulation of the Medullary Pyramid Promotes Proliferation and Differentiation of Oligodendrocyte Progenitor Cells in the Corticospinal Tract of the Adult Rat" [online May 2010]), this study provided the first in vivo demonstration in the adult CNS showing that electrical stimulation can selectively promote proliferation, or rapid increase, and development of myelinating cells.

Researchers stimulated the corticospinal tract in adult rats and injected a stain to identify proliferating cells. Upon stimulation, an increase was noted in cell birth around the axons along the corticospinal tract. Findings showed that electrical stimulation selectively increased the proliferation and differentiation of oligodendrocyte progenitor cells (OPCs) in the corticospinal tract, compared to the unstimulated side. OPCs are critically important, as they mature into oligodendrocytes that wrap and insulate bundles of axons (a process known as myelination) and secure the communication signals along the spinal cord.

"This is the first published research examining activity-dependent development of OPCs in the adult CNS, and there are currently no therapies that specifically target remyelination. We predict that these newborn OPCs, after maturation, will contribute to the remyelination in demyelination events," says Dr. McDonald, lead author of the study and director of ICSCI. "Our findings have important implications for explaining the mechanism of myelin formation, harnessing activity to promote remyelination, and devising new approaches for the treatment of MS and SCI."

This research study was supported by grants from the Hugo W. Moser Research Institute at Kennedy Krieger, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the New York State Spinal Injury Research Program.

Second Study

Published in Experimental Neurology ("Functional Electrical Stimulation Helps Replenish Progenitor Cells in the Injured Spinal Cord of Adult Rats" [in print, April 2010]), this study examined whether FES-induced patterned activity in the chronically injured spinal cord can enhance CNS repair. Researchers provided patterned activity to the spinal cords of chronically-injured rats through electrical stimulation to the peroneal nerve and monitored the birth and survival of neural progenitor cells.

Functional electrical stimulation (FES) induced a selective increase in cell birth that was confined to the lower lumbar spinal cord, an area researchers predicted would experience increased activity from the nerve stimulation. Overall results showed FES induced an approximately 85% increase in cell birth in the lumbar spinal cord.

"This study provides the first demonstration that FES can enhance cell generation in the injured adult CNS," says Daniel Becker, MD, lead study author and head of pediatric restoration therapy at ICSCI. "These results raise the exciting possibility that in addition to its physical and rehabilitative benefits, FES may contribute to spontaneous repair and perhaps recovery of neurological function."

This research study was supported by grants from the Barnes-Jewish Hospital and the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Auxiliary Foundations, the Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation, the Jack Orchard and ALS Hope foundations, NIH, the State of Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and the Johnson & Johnson Focused Giving Program.


The center, located in Baltimore, is dedicated to restoration recovery of chronic SCI and paralysis in children and adults. The interdisciplinary team at ICSCI is committed to the philosophy that with the right combination of therapies, recovery is possible--even many months or years after an injury.

The center's therapy programs follow techniques that have shown promise in helping individuals with chronic SCI recover sensation, movement, and independence and achieve improved health and quality of life.

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Title Annotation:research update
Publication:PN - Paraplegia News
Date:Sep 1, 2010
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