Activity dependent therapies modulate the spinal changes that motoneurons suffer after a peripheral nerve injury

Ariadna Arbat-Plana, Abel Torres-Espín, Xavier Navarro, Esther Udina

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Injury of a peripheral nerve not only leads to target denervation, but also induces massive stripping of spinal synapses on axotomized motoneurons, with disruption of spinal circuits. Even when regeneration is successful, unspecific reinnervation and the limited reconnection of the spinal circuits impair functional recovery. The aim of this study was to describe the changes that axotomized motoneurons suffer after peripheral nerve injury and how activity-dependent therapies and neurotrophic factors can modulate these events. We observed a marked decrease in glutamatergic synapses, with a maximum peak at two weeks post-axotomy, which was only partially reversed with time. This decrease was accompanied by an increase in gephyrin immunoreactivity and a disintegration of perineuronal nets (PNNs) surrounding the motoneurons. Direct application of neurotrophins at the proximal stump was not able to reverse these effects. In contrast, activity-dependent treatment, in the form of treadmill running, reduced the observed destructuring of perineuronal nets and the loss of glutamatergic synapses two weeks after injury. These changes were proportional to the intensity of the exercise protocol. Blockade of sensory inputs from the homolateral hindlimb also reduced PNN immunoreactivity around intact motoneurons, and in that case treadmill running did not reverse that loss, suggesting that the effects of exercise on motoneuron PNN depend on increased sensory activity. Preservation of motoneuron PNN and reduction of synaptic stripping by exercise could facilitate the maintenance of the spinal circuitry and benefit functional recovery after peripheral nerve injury.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-305
JournalExperimental Neurology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2015


  • Motoneurons
  • Nerve injury
  • Perineuronal nets
  • Plasticity
  • Treadmill running


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