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Selective augmentation of corticospinal motor drive with trans-spinal direct current stimulation in the cat

Williams, P;Truong, D;Seifert, A;Xu, J;Bikson, M;Martin, J;

Background A key outcome for spinal cord stimulation for neurorehabilitation after injury is to strengthen corticospinal system control of the arm and hand. Non-invasive, compared with invasive, spinal stimulation minimizes risk but depends on muscle-specific actions for restorative functions. Objective We developed a large-animal (cat) model, combining computational and experimental techniques, to characterize neuromodulation with transcutaneous spinal direct current stimulation (tsDCS) for facilitation of corticospinal motor drive to specific forelimb muscles. Methods Acute modulation of corticospinal function by tsDCS was measured using motor cortex-evoked muscle potentials (MEPs). The effects of current intensity, polarity (cathodal, anodal), and electrode position on specific forelimb muscle (biceps vs extensor carpi radialis, ECR) MEP modulation were examined. Locations of a key target, the motoneuron pools, were determined using neuronal tracing. A high-resolution anatomical (MRI and CT) model was developed for computational simulation of spinal current flow during tsDCS. Results Effects of tsDCS on corticospinal excitability were robust and immediate, therefore supporting MEPs as a sensitive marker of tsDCS targeting. Varying cathodal/anodal current intensity modulated MEP enhancement/suppression, with higher cathodal sensitivity. Muscle-specificity depended on cathode position; the rostral position preferentially augmented biceps responses and the caudal position, ECR responses. Precise anatomical current-flow modeling, supplemented with target motor pool distributions, can explain tsDCS focality on muscle groups. Conclusion Anatomical current-flow modeling with physiological validation based on MEPs provides a framework to optimize muscle-specific tsDCS interventions. tsDCS targeting of representative motor pools enables muscle- and response-specific neuromodulation of corticospinal motor drive.