glowing red neurons shown in a cross section of a mouse spinal cord

Electric zaps can ‘wake up’ lost neural connections, helping paralyzed people walk again

People with crippling spinal injuries can walk again using medical devices that zap their nerves with electricity. But the designers of these new implants weren’t completely sure how they restored motor function over time – now a new study is providing clues.

The new study in humans and lab mice, published Nov. 9 in the journal Nature (opens in a new tab), identifies a specific population of nerve cells that appears essential for regaining the ability to walk after a crippling spinal cord injury. With an electrical jolt, an implant can fire these neurons and thus trigger a cascade of events in which the very architecture of the the nervous system changes. This cellular remodeling restores the lost lines of communication between the brain and the muscles necessary for walking, allowing people who were once paralyzed to walk again, the researchers concluded.

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