The purpose of this study was to determine the importance of the pathways running in the ventrolateral spinal funiculus for overground locomotion in adult, freely behaving rats. Left-sided ventrolateral cervical spinal cord injury was performed in adult female Long-Evans rats. The behavioural abilities of these animals were analyzed at 2 days, and weekly for up to 5.5 weeks following spinal cord injury. Behavioural testing consisted of Von Frey filament testing, ladder walking, a paw usage task, and the assessment of ground reaction forces during unrestrained trotting. Animals with injury to the left ventrolateral cervical spinal cord did not develop enhanced sensitivity to pedal mechanical stimulation. At 2 days following injury, animals had impaired skilled locomotion as indicated by increased number of footslips during ladder walking. At 2 days, these animals also used both limbs together more often for support while rearing, while using the forelimb ipsilateral to the injury less than did uninjured animals. Ground reaction force determination revealed that animals tend to bear less weight on the forelimb and hindlimb ipsilateral to the spinal cord injury 2 days after injury. All animals recovered normal or near normal sensorimotor abilities although subtle asymmetries in ground reaction forces were detectable at 5.5 weeks following spinal cord injury. These results suggest that axons in the ventrolateral spinal funiculi contribute to limb movements during exploration and locomotion but their roles can be served by other pathways after ventrolateral spinal injury.
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