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Chronic Adaptations in the Dorsal Horn following a cervical spinal cord injury in primates

Fisher, K;Garner, J;Darian-Smith, C;

Spinal cord injury (SCI) is devastating, with limited treatment options and variable outcomes. Most in vivo SCI research has focused on the acute and early post-injury periods, and the promotion of axonal growth, so little is understood about the clinically stable chronic state, axonal growth over time, and what plasticity endures. Here, we followed animals into the chronic phase following SCI, to address this gap. Male macaques received targeted deafferentation, affecting three digits of one hand, and were divided into short (4–6 months) or long-term (11–12 months) groups, based on post-injury survival times. Monkeys were assessed behaviorally, where possible, and all exhibited an initial post-injury deficit in manual dexterity, with gradual functional recovery over 2 months. We previously reported extensive sprouting of somatosensory corticospinal (S1 CST) fibers in the dorsal horn in the first five post-injury months. Here, we show that by 1 year, the S1 CST sprouting is pruned, with the terminal territory resembling control animals. This was reflected in the number of putatively “functional” synapses observed, which increased over the first 4–5 months, and then returned to baseline by 1 year. Microglia density also increased in the affected dorsal horn at 4–6 months and then decreased, but did not return to baseline by 1 year, suggesting refinement continues beyond this time. Overall, there is a long period of reorganization and consolidation of adaptive circuitry in the dorsal horn, extending well beyond the initial behavioral recovery. This provides a potential window to target therapeutic opportunities during the chronic phase.