Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences Of The United States Of America
After large but incomplete lesions of ascending dorsal column afferents in the cervical spinal cord, the hand representation in the contralateral primary somatosensory cortex (area 3b) of monkeys is largely or completely unresponsive to touch on the hand. However, after weeks of spontaneous recovery, considerable reactivation of the hand territory in area 3b can occur. Because the reactivation process likely depends on the sprouting of remaining axons from the hand in the cuneate nucleus of the lower brainstem, we sought to influence cortical reactivation by treating the cuneate nucleus with an enzyme, chondroitinase ABC, that digests perineuronal nets, promoting axon sprouting. Dorsal column lesions were placed at a spinal cord level (C5/C6) that allowed a portion of ascending afferents from digit 1 to survive in squirrel monkeys. After 11-12 wk of recovery, the contralateral forelimb cortex was reactivated by stimulating digit 1 more extensively in treated monkeys than in control monkeys. The results are consistent with the proposal that the treatment enhances the sprouting of digit 1 afferents in the cuneate nucleus and that this sprouting allowed these preserved inputs to activate cortex more effectively.