Riluzole decreases flexion withdrawal reflex but not voluntary ankle torque in human chronic spinal cord injury

Renée D. Theiss, T. George Hornby, W. Zev Rymer, Brian D. Schmit

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The objectives of this study were to probe the contribution of spinal neuron persistent sodium conductances to reflex hyperexcitability in human chronic spinal cord injury. The intrinsic excitability of spinal neurons provides a novel target for medical intervention. Studies in animal models have shown that persistent inward currents, such as persistent sodium currents, profoundly influence neuronal excitability, and recovery of persistent inward currents in spinal neurons of animals with spinal cord injury routinely coincides with the appearance of spastic reflexes. Pharmacologically, this neuronal excitability can be decreased by agents that reduce persistent inward currents, such as the selective persistent sodium current inhibitor riluzole. We were able to recruit seven subjects with chronic incomplete spinal cord injury who were not concurrently taking antispasticity medications into the study. Reflex responses (flexion withdrawal and H-reflexes) and volitional strength (isometric maximum voluntary contractions) were tested at the ankle before and after placebo-controlled, double-blinded oral administration of riluzole (50 mg). Riluzole significantly decreased the peak ankle dorsiflexion torque component of the flexion withdrawal reflex. Peak maximum voluntary torque in both dorsiflexion and plantarflexion directions was not significantly changed. Average dorsiflexion torque sustained during the 5-s isometric maximum voluntary contraction, however, increased significantly. There was no effect, however, on the monosynaptic plantar and dorsiflexor H-reflex responses. Overall, these results demonstrate a contribution of persistent sodium conductances to polysynaptic reflex excitability in human chronic spinal cord injury without a significant role in maximum strength production. These results suggest that intrinsic spinal cellular excitability could be a target for managing chronic spinal cord injury hyperreflexia impairments without causing a significant loss in volitional strength.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2781-2790
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2011


  • Interneuron
  • Motoneuron
  • Persistent sodium

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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