Effect of spinal cord injury on the neural regulation of respiratory function

M. Beth Zimmer, Kwaku Nantwia and Harry G. Goshgariana
Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, Wayne State University, 540 East Canfield, Detroit, MI 48201, USA

Received 15 May 2007; revised 21 May 2007; accepted 22 May 2007. Available online 31 May 2007.


Injury at any level of the spinal cord can impair respiratory motor function. Indeed, complications associated with respiratory function are the number one cause of mortality in humans following spinal cord injury (SCI) at any level of the cord. This review is aimed at describing the effect of SCI on respiratory function while highlighting the recent advances made by basic science research regarding the neural regulation of respiratory function following injury. Models of SCI that include upper cervical hemisection and contusion injury have been utilized to examine the underlying neural mechanisms of respiratory control following injury. The approaches used to induce motor recovery in the respiratory system are similar to other studies that examine recovery of locomotor function after SCI. These include strategies to initiate regeneration of damaged axons, to reinnervate paralyzed muscles with peripheral nerve grafts, to use spared neural pathways to induce motor function, and finally, to initiate mechanisms of neural plasticity within the spinal cord to increase motoneuron firing. The ultimate goals of this research are to restore motor function to previously paralyzed respiratory muscles and improve ventilation in patients with SCI.

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