Stable muscle atrophy in long-term paraplegics with complete upper motor neuron lesion from 3- to 20-year SCI

H. Kern, C. Hofer, M. Mödlin, W. Mayr, V. Vindigni, S. Zampieri, S. Boncompagni, F. Protasi, U. Carraro

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Study design: Unrandomized trial. Objectives: To investigate the structural and functional relationships and the progression of muscle atrophy up to 20 years of spastic paraplegia. Setting: Clinical follow-up in Vienna, Austria; muscle biopsies analyzed by light microscopy in Padova and by electron microscopy (EM) in Chieti, Italy. Methods: Force was measured as knee extension torque; trophism by computer tomography scan; tissue composition and fiber morphology by histopathology and EM. Results: In the long-term group of patients (17.0±2.6 years), force and size of thigh muscles were only slightly different from those of mid-term subjects (2.2±0.5 years). Histology and ultrastructure confirm that the difference in average size of muscle fibers between long-term and mid-term paralyzed leg muscles is actually very small. In addition, muscle fibers maintain the striated appearance characteristic of normal skeletal fibers even after 14-20 years of paralysis. Ultrastructural alterations of the activating and metabolic machineries, and the presence of fibers with lower motor neuron denervation features, may explain the low-force output and the reduced endurance of paretic muscles. Conclusion: The stable muscle atrophy that characterizes long-lasting spastic paraplegia suggests that there are no upper-time limits to begin a training program based on functional electrical stimulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-304
Number of pages12
JournalSpinal Cord
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr 11 2008


  • Biopsy
  • CT scan
  • Histopathology and electron microscopy
  • Human muscle
  • Paraplegia
  • Upper motor neuron lesion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology


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