Electric zaps can “reawaken” lost neural connections, allowing paralyzed people to walk again

People with a paralyzing spinal cord injury can walk again with the help of medical devices that put electricity on their nerves. But the designers of these new implants weren’t entirely sure how they restored motor function over time — now a new study provides clues.

The new study of humans and laboratory mice, published Nov. 9 in the journal Nature (opens in new tab), points to a specific population of nerve cells that appears to be key to restoring the ability to walk after a paralyzing spinal cord injury. With an electric shock, an implant can switch on these neurons, triggering a cascade of events in which the very architecture of the brain is disrupted nervous system changes. This cellular remodeling restores the lost lines of communication between the brain and the muscles needed to walk, allowing once paralyzed people to walk again, the researchers concluded.

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