We investigated the effects of intermittent theta-burst stimulation (iTBS) on locomotor function, motor plasticity, and axonal regeneration in an animal model of incomplete spinal cord injury (SCI). Aneurysm clips with different compression forces were applied extradurally around the spinal cord at T10. Motor plasticity was evaluated by examining the motor evoked potentials (MEPs). Long-term iTBS treatment was given at the post-SCI 5th week and continued for 2 weeks (5 consecutive days/week). Time-course changes in locomotor function and the axonal regeneration level were measured by the Basso Beattie Bresnahan (BBB) scale, and growth-associated protein (GAP)-43 expression was detected in brain and spinal cord tissues. iTBS-induced potentiation was reduced at post-1-week SCI lesion and had recovered by 4 weeks post-SCI lesion, except in the severe group. Multiple sessions of iTBS treatment enhanced the motor plasticity in all SCI rats. The locomotor function revealed no significant changes between pre- and post-iTBS treatment in SCI rats. The GAP-43 expression level in the spinal cord increased following 2 weeks of iTBS treatment compared to the sham-treatment group. This preclinical model may provide a translational platform to further investigate therapeutic mechanisms of transcranial magnetic stimulation and enhance the possibility of the potential use of TMS with the iTBS scheme for treating SCIs.
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