Behavioural brain research

Challenges of animal models in SCI research: Effects of pre-injury task-specific training in adult rats before lesion.

PMID 25975172


A rarely explored subject in animal research is the effect of pre-injury variables on behavioral outcome post-SCI. Low reporting of such variables may underlie some discrepancies in findings between laboratories. Particularly, intensive task-specific training before a SCI might be important, considering that sports injuries are one of the leading causes of SCI. Thus, individuals with SCI often underwent rigorous training before their injuries. In the present study, we asked whether training before SCI on a grasping task or a swimming task would influence motor recovery in rats. Swim pre-training impaired recovery of swimming 2 and 4 weeks post-injury. This result fits with the idea of motor learning interference, which posits that learning something new may disrupt learning of a new task; in this case, learning strategies to compensate for functional loss after SCI. In contrast to swimming, grasp pre-training did not influence grasping ability after SCI at any time point. However, grasp pre-trained rats attempted to grasp more times than untrained rats in the first 4 weeks post-injury. Also, lesion volume of grasp pre-trained rats was greater than that of untrained rats, a finding which may be related to stress or activity. The increased participation in rehabilitative training of the pre-trained rats in the early weeks post-injury may have potentiated spontaneous plasticity in the spinal cord and counteracted the deleterious effect of interference and bigger lesions. Thus, our findings suggest that pre-training plays a significant role in recovery after CNS damage and needs to be carefully controlled for.