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Impaired transmission in the corticospinal tract and gait disability in spinal cord injured persons

Barthélemy, D. and Willerslev-Olsen, M. and Lundell, Henrik and Conway, B.A. and Knudsen, H. and Biering-Sørensen, F. and Nielsen, J.B. (2010) Impaired transmission in the corticospinal tract and gait disability in spinal cord injured persons. Journal of Neurophysiology, 104 (2). pp. 1167-1176. ISSN 0022-3077

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Rehabilitation following spinal cord injury is likely to depend on recovery of corticospinal systems. Here we investigate whether transmission in the corticospinal tract may explain foot drop (inability to dorsiflex ankle) in persons with spinal cord lesion. The study was performed in 24 persons with incomplete spinal cord lesion (C1 to L1) and 15 healthy controls. Coherence in the 10- to 20-Hz frequency band between paired tibialis anterior muscle (TA) electromyographic recordings obtained in the swing phase of walking, which was taken as a measure of motor unit synchronization. It was significantly correlated with the degree of foot drop, as measured by toe elevation and ankle angle excursion in the first part of swing. Transcranial magnetic stimulation was used to elicit motor-evoked potentials (MEPs) in the TA. The amplitude of the MEPs at rest and their latency during contraction were correlated to the degree of foot drop. Spinal cord injured participants who exhibited a large foot drop had little or no MEP at rest in the TA muscle and had little or no coherence in the same muscle during walking. Gait speed was correlated to foot drop, and was the lowest in participants with no MEP at rest. The data confirm that transmission in the corticospinal tract is of importance for lifting the foot during the swing phase of human gait.