Study: Enabling spinal cord injury sufferers to breath without help

Written by Megan Wood | October 18, 2017 | Print  |

Cleveland-based Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine researchers investigated the neural signals controlling the diaphragm, in a study published by Cell Reports.

Here are six key points:


1. Researchers found two neural signal sets operate the diaphragm, one coming from the brain and the other from the spinal cord.


2. The brain neural networks are called central pattern generators; when the network is cut off from the brain after a spinal cord injury, patients are unable to breathe on their own. The brain, however, is not the only controller of the diaphragm.


3. The study involved analysis of ex vivo spinal cords from neonatal mice. After receiving drugs to block the inhibitory transmitters, the spinal cords' phrenic motor neurons activated. These neurons control the diaphragm. The researchers concluded the spinal cord could control the diaphragm in the absence of brain signals.


4. The spinal cord signals do not control breathing, as the brain signals does, but rather the gasp reflex.


5. The third stage of the experiment involved blocking the inhibition of spinal cord signals with drugs in rats and mice with SCI. The researchers observed movements where the spinal cord was injured without help from brain signals.


6. Next, the researchers want to test whether optogenetics technologies can alter the spinal cord signals into normal breathing patterns.


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