Synergistic effects of BDNF and rehabilitative training on recovery after cervical spinal cord injury

N. Weishaupt, S. Li, A. Di Pardo, S. Sipione, K. Fouad

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Promoting the rewiring of lesioned motor tracts following a spinal cord injury is a promising strategy to restore motor function. For instance, axonal collaterals may connect to spared, lesion-bridging neurons, thereby establishing a detour for descending signals and thus promoting functional recovery. In our rat model of cervical spinal cord injury, we attempted to promote targeted rewiring of the unilaterally injured corticospinal tract (CST) via the spared reticulospinal tract (RtST). To promote new connections between the two tracts in the brainstem, we administered viral vectors producing two neurotrophins. Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a known promotor of collateral growth, was expressed in the motor cortex, and neurotrophin 3 (NT-3), which has chemoattractive properties, was expressed in the reticular formation. Because rehabilitative training has proven to be beneficial in promoting functionally meaningful plasticity following injury, we added training in a skilled reaching task. Different neurotrophin or control treatments with or without training were evaluated.As hypothesized, improvements of motor performance with the injured forelimb following neurotrophin treatment alone were absent or modest compared to untreated controls. In contrast, we found a significant synergistic effect on performance when BDNF treatment was combined with training. The mechanism of this recovery remains unidentified, as histological analyses of CST and RtST collateral projections did not reveal differences among treatment groups.In conclusion, we demonstrate that following a cervical spinal lesion, rehabilitative training is necessary to translate effects of BDNF into functional recovery by mechanisms which are likely independent of collateral sprouting of the CST or RtST into the gray matter.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-42
Number of pages12
JournalBehavioural Brain Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 15 2013


  • Adeno-associated viral vectors
  • Corticospinal tract
  • Neurotrophin-3
  • Plasticity
  • Reticulospinal tract

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


Dive into the research topics of 'Synergistic effects of BDNF and rehabilitative training on recovery after cervical spinal cord injury'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this