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

Electrical zaps can “reawaken” lost neural connections and help paralyzed people walk again

People with debilitating spinal cord injuries are able to walk again with the help of medical devices that tap their nerves with electricity. But the designers of these new implants weren’t entirely sure how they restored motor function over time — now a new study offers clues.

The new study in humans and laboratory mice, published Nov. 9 in the journal Nature (opens in new tab), identifies a specific population of nerve cells that appears to be key to restoring walking ability after a debilitating spinal cord injury. With a surge of electricity, an implant can turn on these neurons, setting off a cascade of events in which the architecture of the nervous system changes. This cellular remodeling restores the lost pathways of communication between the Brain and the muscles needed to walk so that once paralyzed people can walk again, the researchers concluded.

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