Afferent input and sensory function after human spinal cord injury

Recep A. Ozdemir, Monica A Perez*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Spinal cord injury (SCI) often disrupts the integrity of afferent (sensory) axons projecting through the spinal cord dorsal columns to the brain. Examinations of ascending sensory tracts, therefore, are critical for monitoring the extent of SCI and recovery processes. In this review, we discuss the most common electrophysiological techniques used to assess transmission of afferent inputs to the primary motor cortex (i.e., afferent input-induced facilitation and inhibition) and the somatosensory cortex [i.e., somatosensory evoked potentials (SSEPs), dermatomal SSEPs, and electrical perceptual thresh-olds] following human SCI. We discuss how afferent input modulates corticospinal excitability by involving cortical and spinal mechanisms depending on the timing of the effects, which need to be considered separately for upper and lower limb muscles. We argue that the time of arrival of afferent input onto the sensory and motor cortex is critical to consider in plasticity-induced protocols in humans with SCI. We also discuss how current sensory exams have been used to detect differences between control and SCI participants but might be less optimal to characterize the level and severity of injury. There is a need to conduct some of these electrophysiological examinations during functionally relevant behaviors to understand the contribution of impaired afferent inputs to the control, or lack of control, of movement. Thus the effects of transmission of afferent inputs to the brain need to be considered on multiple functions following human SCI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)134-144
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2018


  • Dorsal column
  • Sensory cortex
  • Sensory function
  • Somatosensory cortex
  • Somatosensory evoked potentials
  • Spinal cord injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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