Phrenic motoneuron discharge patterns following chronic cervical spinal cord injury

Kun Ze Lee, Brendan J. Dougherty, Milapjit S. Sandhu, Michael A. Lane, Paul J. Reier, David D. Fuller*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Cervical spinal cord injury (SCI) dramatically disrupts synaptic inputs and triggers biochemical, as well as morphological, plasticity in relation to the phrenic motor neuron (PhMN) pool. Accordingly, our primary purpose was to determine if chronic SCI induces fundamental changes in the recruitment profile and discharge patterns of PhMNs. Individual PhMN action potentials were recorded from the phrenic nerve ipsilateral to lateral cervical (C2) hemisection injury (C2Hx) in anesthetized adult male rats at 2, 4 or 8wks post-injury and in uninjured controls. PhMNs were phenotypically classified as early (Early-I) or late inspiratory (Late-I), or silent according to discharge patterns. Following C2Hx, the distribution of PhMNs was dominated by Late-I and silent cells. Late-I burst parameters (e.g., spikes per breath, burst frequency and duration) were initially reduced but returned towards control values by 8wks post-injury. In addition, a unique PhMN burst pattern emerged after C2Hx in which Early-I cells burst tonically during hypocapnic inspiratory apnea. We also quantified the impact of gradual reductions in end-tidal CO2 partial pressure (PETCO2) on bilateral phrenic nerve activity. Compared to control rats, as PETCO2 declined, the C2Hx animals had greater inspiratory frequencies (breaths*min-1) and more substantial decreases in ipsilateral phrenic burst amplitude. We conclude that the primary physiological impact of C2Hx on ipsilateral PhMN burst patterns is a persistent delay in burst onset, transient reductions in burst frequency, and the emergence of tonic burst patterns. The inspiratory frequency data suggest that plasticity in brainstem networks is likely to play an important role in phrenic motor output after cervical SCI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20-32
Number of pages13
JournalExperimental Neurology
StatePublished - 2013


  • Motoneuron
  • Phrenic
  • Spinal cord injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Developmental Neuroscience


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