Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Although it is well known that activity-dependent motor cortex (MCX) plasticity produces long-term potentiation (LTP) of local cortical circuits, leading to enhanced muscle function, the effects on the corticospinal projection to spinal neurons has not yet been thoroughly studied. Here, we investigate a spinal locus for corticospinal tract (CST) plasticity in anesthetized rats using multichannel recording of motor-evoked, intraspinal local field potentials (LFPs) at the sixth cervical spinal cord segment. We produced LTP by intermittent theta burst electrical stimulation (iTBS) of the wrist area of MCX. Approximately 3 min of MCX iTBS potentiated the monosynaptic excitatory LFP recorded within the CST termination field in the dorsal horn and intermediate zone for at least 15 min after stimulation. Ventrolaterally, in the spinal cord gray matter, which is outside the CST termination field in rats, iTBS potentiated an oligosynaptic negative LFP that was localized to the wrist muscle motor pool. Spinal LTP remained robust, despite pharmacological blockade of iTBS-induced LTP within MCX using MK801, showing that activity-dependent spinal plasticity can be induced without concurrent MCX LTP. Pyramidal tract iTBS, which preferentially activates the CST, also produced significant spinal LTP, indicating the capacity for plasticity at the CST-spinal interneuron synapse. Our findings show CST monosynaptic LTP in spinal interneurons and demonstrate that spinal premotor circuits are capable of further modifying descending MCX control signals in an activity-dependent manner.