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Rehabilitation drives enhancement of neuronal structure in functionally relevant neuronal subsets


We determined whether rehabilitation after cortical injury also drives dynamic dendritic and spine changes in functionally distinct subsets of neurons, resulting in functional recovery. Moreover, given known requirements for cholinergic systems in mediating complex forms of cortical plasticity, including skilled motor learning, we hypothesized that cholinergic systems are essential mediators of neuronal structural and functional plasticity associated with motor rehabilitation. Adult rats learned a skilled forelimb grasping task and then, underwent destructive lesions of the caudal forelimb region of the motor cortex, resulting in nearly complete loss of grasping ability. Subsequent intensive rehabilitation significantly enhanced both dendritic architecture and spine number in the adjoining rostral forelimb area compared with that in the lesioned animals that were not rehabilitated. Cholinergic ablation markedly attenuated rehabilitation-induced recovery in both neuronal structure and motor function. Thus, rehabilitation focused on an affected limb robustly drives structural compensation in perilesion cortex, enabling functional recovery.

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