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Article published in Science Translational Medicine

Closed-loop neuromodulation of spinal sensorimotor circuits controls refined locomotion after comple...

14-16 November 2012 International Conference on Neurorehabilitation

NEUWalk scientists Prof. Courtine and Prof. Micera participate in the conference.

Results published in Science and Nature Magazine

Rats with spinal cord injuries and severe paralysis are now walking thanks to researchers from NEUWa...

Closing the Loop on Neuroprosthetic Control

A completely paralyzed rat can be made to walk over obstacles and upstairs by electrically stimulating the spinal cord. The foot movement is controlled in real-time in order to follow a predefined trajectory and thereby help the rat to walk again.

The human body needs electricity to function. When circuitries of the nervous system are damaged, the transmission of electrical signals is impaired, often leading to devastating neurological disorders like paralysis. Electrical stimulation of the nervous system is known to help relieve these neurological disorders. For instance, deep brain stimulation is used to treat Parkinson’s disease. But can electrical signals be engineered to help a paraplegic walk naturally?


The answer is yes. “We have complete control of the rat’s legs,” says EPFL neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine. “The rat has no voluntary control of its limbs, but the severed spinal cord can be reactivated to perform natural walking. We can control in real-time how the rat moves forward and how high it lifts its legs. ” The scientists studied rats whose spinal cords were completely severed, so no signal from the brain reach the lower spinal cord. Flexible electrodes were surgically implanted onto the lower spinal cord where gait-related neuronal circuitries are located. Through these electrodes electric current stimulated the spinal cord. They discovered a direct relationship between the height of the steps and the frequency of the electrical stimulation.


Based on this and careful monitoring of the rat’s gait, the researchers specially designed the electrical stimulation to adapt the rat’s stride in anticipation of upcoming obstacles, like barriers or stairs. “This can be exploited to develop effective neuroprosthetic technologies,” says co-author and neuroengineer Silvestro Micera. “We believe that this technology could one day significantly improve the quality of life of people with neurological disorders".


Contact: Grégoire Courtine and Silvestro Micera, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), Center for Neuroprosthetics and Brain Mind Institute