Locomotor-related V3 interneurons initiate and coordinate muscles spasms after spinal cord injury

Shihao Lin, Yaqing Li, Ana M. Lucas-Osma, Krishnapriya Hari, Marilee J. Stephens, Rahul Singla, C. J. Heckman, Ying Zhang, Karim Fouad, Keith K. Fenrich, David J. Bennett*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Spinal cord injury leads to a devastating loss of motor function and yet is accompanied by a paradoxical emergence of muscle spasms, which often involve complex muscle activation patterns across multiple joints, reciprocal muscle timing, and rhythmic clonus. We investigated the hypothesis that spasms are a manifestation of partially recovered function in spinal central pattern-generating (CPG) circuits that normally coordinate complex postural and locomotor functions. We focused on the commissural propriospinal V3 neurons that coordinate interlimb movements during locomotion and examined mice with a chronic spinal transection. When the V3 neurons were optogenetically activated with a light pulse, a complex coordinated pattern of motoneuron activity was evoked with reciprocal, crossed, and intersegmental activity. In these same mice, brief sensory stimulation evoked spasms with a complex pattern of activity very similar to that evoked by light, and the timing of these spasms was readily reset by activation of V3 neurons. Given that V3 neurons receive abundant sensory input, these results suggest that sensory activation of V3 neurons is alone sufficient to generate spasms. Indeed, when we silenced V3 neurons optogenetically, sensory evoked spasms were inhibited. Also, inhibiting general CPG activity by blocking N-methyl- D-aspartate (NMDA) receptors inhibited V3 evoked activity and associated spasms, whereas NMDA application did the opposite. Furthermore, overwhelming the V3 neurons with repeated optogenetic stimulation inhibited subsequent sensory evoked spasms, both in vivo and in vitro. Taken together, these results demonstrate that spasms are generated in part by sensory activation of V3 neurons and associated CPG circuits. NEW & NOTEWORTHY We investigated whether locomotorrelated excitatory interneurons (V3) play a role in coordinating muscle spasm activity after spinal cord injury (SCI). Unexpectedly, we found that these neurons not only coordinate reciprocal motor activity but are critical for initiating spasms, as well. More generally, these results suggest that V3 neurons are important in initiating and coordinating motor output after SCI and thus provide a promising target for restoring residual motor function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1352-1367
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • Locomotion
  • Motoneuron
  • Optogenetics
  • Spasticity
  • Spinal transection
  • V3 interneuron

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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