Optogenetic surface stimulation of the rat cervical spinal cord

S. E. Mondello, M. D. Sunshine, A. E. Fischedick, S. J. Dreyer, G. D. Horwitz, P. Anikeeva, P. J. Horner, C. T. Moritz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Electrical intraspinal microstimulation (ISMS) at various sites along the cervical spinal cord permits forelimb muscle activation, elicits complex limb movements and may enhance functional recovery after spinal cord injury. Here, we explore optogenetic spinal stimulation (OSS) as a less invasive and cell type-specific alternative to ISMS. To map forelimb muscle activation by OSS in rats, adenoassociated viruses (AAV) carrying the blue-light sensitive ion channels channelrhodopsin-2 (ChR2) and Chronos were injected into the cervical spinal cord at different depths and volumes. Following an AAV incubation period of several weeks, OSS-induced forelimb muscle activation and movements were assessed at 16 sites along the dorsal surface of the cervical spinal cord. Three distinct movement types were observed. We find that AAV injection volume and depth can be titrated to achieve OSS-based activation of several movements. Optical stimulation of the spinal cord is thus a promising method for dissecting the function of spinal circuitry and targeting therapies following injury. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Optogenetics in the spinal cord can be used both for therapeutic treatments and to uncover basic mechanisms of spinal cord physiology. For the first time, we describe the methodology and outcomes of optogenetic surface stimulation of the rat spinal cord. Specifically, we describe the evoked responses of forelimbs and address the effects of different adeno-associated virus injection paradigms. Additionally, we are the first to report on the limitations of light penetration through the rat spinal cord.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)795-811
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 15 2018


  • Brain-machine interface
  • Hemiparesis
  • Neuroprosthesis
  • Optogenetics
  • Spinal cord injury

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology


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