After peripheral nerve injuries axons can regenerate and reestablish connectivity in the periphery;however restored motor function is not normal. Previously we have shown that some deficits, like lack of monosynaptic reflexes, can be explained by the permanent retraction of la proprioceptive synapses from motoneurons. We now propose that circuit reorganizations are relatively global and affect also spinal intermeuronal circuits that exert control over not only injured motoneurons, but also other motor pools controlling the same limb. As a result, a novel limb control pattern emerges that allows some function, but is also clearly pathological. In the proposed work we will seek confirmation for structural changes in spinal interneuronal circuits. The work will parallel functional studies proposed in project 1. We will analyze in detail the synaptic organization of recurrent and reciprocal inhibition, two key inhibitory circuits that modulate and pattern motoneuron firing and therefore muscle contractions. Recurrent inhibition exerts feedback control of motor output through an interposed interneuron named the Renshaw cell that receives direct excitation from intraspinal collaterals of motor axons. Reciprocal inhibition is mediated by la inhibitory interneurons which receive common inputs with certain motor pools, including those from la afferents, and inhibit motoneurons with antagonist action allowing for example smooth flexion-extension alternation during movement. We hypothesize that both interneurons become denervated from respectively, motor axons and la afferents after nerve injury. We propose that these alterations cause major changes in spinal circuitry.
In aim 1 we will test the hypothesis that denervation of Renshaw cells coupled to injured motor axons causes synaptic reorganizations of recurrent inhibition in the whole spinal segment.
In aim 2 we will test the hypothesis that differential la de-afferentation of inhibitory and excitatory interneurons in reciprocal pathways causes a shift in balance favoring excitation. These could explain the excessive co-contraction of antagonists observed after nerve injuries. Detail analyses of connectivity will be performed with a combination of techniques, including novel retrograde transynaptic viral tracing that allows revealing microcircuit connectivity.
The lack of good motor recovery after nerve injuries and despite adequate regeneration of peripheral nerves remains a puzzling question and a complication for patient recovery. The work proposed will challenge the current paradigm of improving regeneration in peripheral nerves and seek an explanation in possible injured-induced reorganizations of spinal motor circuits. This knowledge will allow us to direct future work to seek for the cellular mechanisms of this circuit plasticity and form the basis of future therapeutically approaches.
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