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Long-lasting increase in axonal excitability after epidurally applied DC

Journal article
Authors Elzbieta Jankowska
Dominik Kaczmarek
Francesco Bolzoni
Ingela Hammar
Published in Journal of Neurophysiology
Volume 118
Issue 2
Pages 1210-1220
ISSN 0022-3077
Publication year 2017
Published at Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology
Institute of Neuroscience and Physiology, Department of Physiology
Pages 1210-1220
Language en
Links doi.org/10.1152/jn.00148.2017
Keywords Direct current polarization, Epidural stimulation, Nerve fibers, Spinal cord excitability
Subject categories Neurology

Abstract

Effects of direct current (DC) on nerve fibers have primarily been investigated during or just after DC application. However, locally applied cathodal DC was recently demonstrated to increase the excitability of intraspinal preterminal axonal branches for >1 h. The aim of this study was therefore to investigate whether DC evokes a similarly long-lasting increase in the excitability of myelinated axons within the dorsal columns. The excitability of dorsal column fibers stimulated epidurally was monitored by recording compound action potentials in peripheral nerves in acute experiments in deeply anesthetized rats. The results show that 1) cathodal polarization (0.8–1.0 μA) results in a severalfold increase in the number of epidurally activated fibers and 2) the increase in the excitability appears within seconds, 3) lasts for >1 h, and 4) is activity independent, as it does not require fiber stimulation during the polarization. These features demonstrate an unexplored form of plasticity of myelinated fibers and indicate the conditions under which it develops. They also suggest that therapeutic effects of epidural stimulation may be significantly enhanced if it is combined with DC polarization. In particular, by using DC to increase the number of fibers activated by low-intensity epidural stimuli, the low clinical tolerance to higher stimulus intensities might be overcome. The activity independence of long-lasting DC effects would also allow the use of only brief periods of DC polarization preceding epidural stimulation to increase the effect. NEW & NOTEWORTHY The study indicates a new form of plasticity of myelinated fibers. The differences in time course of DC-evoked increases in the excitability of myelinated nerve fibers in the dorsal columns and in preterminal axonal branches suggest that distinct mechanisms are involved in them. The results show that combining epidural stimulation and transspinal DC polarization may dramatically improve their outcome and result in more effective pain control and the return of impaired motor functions. © 2017 the American Physiological Society.

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