Electrical stimulation of transplanted motoneurons improves motor unit formation

Yang Liu, Robert M. Grumbles, Christine K. Thomas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Motoneurons die following spinal cord trauma and with neurological disease. Intact axons reinnervate nearby muscle fibers to compensate for the death of motoneurons, but when an entire motoneuron pool dies, there is complete denervation. To reduce denervation atrophy, we have reinnervated muscles in Fisher rats from local transplants of embryonic motoneurons in peripheral nerve. Since growth of axons from embryonic neurons is activity dependent, our aim was to test whether brief electrical stimulation of the neurons immediately after transplantation altered motor unit numbers and muscle properties 10 wk later. All surgical procedures and recordings were done in anesthetized animals. The muscle consequences of motoneuron death were mimicked by unilateral sciatic nerve section. One week later, 200,000 embryonic day 14 and 15 ventral spinal cord cells, purified for motoneurons, were injected into the tibial nerve 10-15 mm from the gastrocnemii muscles as the only neuron source for muscle reinnervation. The cells were stimulated immediately after transplantation for up to 1 h using protocols designed to examine differential effects due to pulse number, stimulation frequency, pattern, and duration. Electrical stimulation that included short rests and lasted for 1 h resulted in higher motor unit counts. Muscles with higher motor unit counts had more reinnervated fibers and were stronger. Denervated muscles had to be stimulated directly to evoke contractions. These results show that brief electrical stimulation of embryonic neurons, in vivo, has long-term effects on motor unit formation and muscle force. This muscle reinnervation provides the opportunity to use patterned electrical stimulation to produce functional movements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)660-670
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 1 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Axon regeneration
  • Muscle force
  • Muscle reinnervation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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