Social support promotes rehab participation in mice after spinal cord injury: Researchers find injured animals have mental barriers to exercise

A research finding in mice that the drug gabapentin improved rehab compliance after spinal cord injury led scientists to a related, unexpected discovery: Injured mice that didn’t receive gabapentin and declined to exercise by themselves were willing to hop on the treadmill when presented with a group rehab option.

Researchers observed that in mice with spinal cord injury (SCI), those treated with gabapentin routinely participated in voluntary post-injury treadmill training. Mice that received a placebo were less engaged in voluntary rehab, and participation declined as they neared the chronic phase of post-injury disease.

Differences in the generation of new neurons and anxiety-like symptoms suggested gabapentin was protecting mental well-being in animals with SCI, leading researchers to consider a way to boost untreated animals’ drive to aid in their own recovery — by enabling group participation. Instead of having mice train alone on treadmills in lanes with structural dividers, scientists took the dividers away.

“The results were astonishing,” said senior author Andrea Tedeschi, assistant professor of neuroscience in The Ohio State University College of Medicine. “We found that a social motivator was sufficient to rescue rehab participation in mice without the drug, and though it was modest, this promoted some degree of recovery as well.

“Given these results, and that mice and humans both require social interaction, we might start thinking about rehab strategies, and consider whether group intervention may be physically and emotionally beneficial for individuals with spinal cord injury.”

The study was published recently in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience.

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