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Stimulation of the human lumbar spinal cord with implanted and surface electrodes: a computer simulation study.

ABSTRACT

Human lumbar spinal cord networks controlling stepping and standing can be activated through posterior root stimulation using implanted electrodes. A new stimulation method utilizing surface electrodes has been shown to excite lumbar posterior root fibers similarly as with implants, an unexpected finding considering the distance to these target neurons. In the present study we apply computer modeling to compare the depolarization of posterior root fibers by both stimulation techniques. We further examine the potential for additional direct activation of motoneurons within the anterior roots. Using an implant, action potentials are initiated in the posterior root fibers at their entry into the spinal cord or along the longitudinal portions of the fiber trajectories, depending on the cathode position. For transcutaneous stimulation low threshold sites of the same fibers are identified at their exits from the spinal canal in addition to their spinal cord entries. In these exit regions anterior root fibers can also be activated. The simulation results provide a biophysical explanation for the electrophysiological findings of lower limb muscle responses induced by posterior root stimulation. Efficient excitation of afferent spinal cord structures with a simple noninvasive method can become a promising modality in the rehabilitation of people with motor disorders.