Social and environmental enrichment improves sensory and motor recovery after severe contusive spinal cord injury in the rat

Yerko Berrocal, Damien D. Pearse, Amanpreet Singh, Christian M. Andrade, Jordan S. McBroom, Rocio Puentes, Mary J. Eaton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Neuropathic pain and motor dysfunction are difficult problems following spinal cord injury (SCI). Social and environmental enrichment (SEE), which models much of the clinical rehabilitation environment for post-SCI persons, is the focus of the current investigation which examines the effects of multiple-housing and the addition of climbing spaces, improved bedding and crawl toys on the sensory and motor recovery following a severe contusive SCI. Efficacy was determined with sensory testing, open-field motor behavioral testing, lesion volume analysis and quantification of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the lumbar spinal cord with and without SEE provided during the recovery period. Sensory and motor testing were performed weekly for 12 weeks following SCI. SEE significantly and permanently reversed cutaneous allodynia, but not thermal hyperalgesia, to near normal levels. The gross locomotor performance (BBB [Basso, Beattie, and Bresnahan] motor scores) significantly improved about two points. In addition, the BBB subscale scores were significantly improved nearly seven points by the end of the study. SEE also significantly improved foot rotation to normal levels and reduced gridwalk footfall errors nearly 50%, but had no effect on stride length or base of support dysfunctions. SEE significantly increased the total volume of a thoracic segment of cord encompassing the injury site at 12 weeks, by reducing cavitation and increasing both the volume of grey and white matter spared, compared to SCI alone. When BDNF levels were examined in the injured lumbar spinal cord, SEE significantly returned BDNF levels to near-normal. These data suggest that immediate use of SEE after contusive SCI is able to improve overall spinal cell survival and prevent much of the sensory and motor dysfunction that accompanies contusive SCI.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1761-1772
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of neurotrauma
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2007


  • Growth factors
  • Locomotor function
  • Sensory function
  • Therapeutic approaches for the treatment of CNS
  • Traumatic spinal cord injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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