Study: Probiotics Can Help Functional Recovery in SCI

Healthcare professionals who work with clients who have sustained spinal cord injuries (SCI) are aware of the widespread impact of the condition. In addition to the paralysis and loss of sensation most often talked about, people with spinal cord injuries can also experience physiological changes ranging from blood pressure issues to chronic pain.

But a recent study by the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center has highlighted another way SCI can impact the body: by disrupting the “gut microbiome” that’s critical to normal intestinal function.

Principal investigator Phillip Popovich, professor of neuroscience and director of The Center for Brain and Spinal Cord Repair, Ohio State Neurological Institute, explained, “The trillions of microbes that exist in the gastrointestinal tract have emerged as pivotal regulators of human development and physiology. Spinal cord injuries cause dramatic shifts in the types of bacteria normally found in the gut, resulting in dysbiosis, which can cause or contribute to neurologic disease.”

Researchers found that traumatic SCI “causes bacterial translocation,” described as the movement of bacteria from the gut into sterile tissues throughout the body.

“These changes are associated with activation of immune cells in gut-associated lymph tissue,” researchers said in a news announcement.

Mice that were first intentionally subjected to dysbiosis and then sustained SCI experienced impaired functional recovery, researchers said. When mice were given probiotics after they were injured, they experienced improved neurological recovery.

Researchers pointed out that antibiotics that cause dysbiosis are often used to treat pneumonia, wound infections or cystitis (bladder inflammation).

The study’s first author, Kristina A. Kigerl of Ohio State University, said, “Although paralysis and loss of neurologic function are well-known consequences of spinal cord injury, the current data reveal a previously unappreciated role for spinal cord injury in changing the gut microbiome with reciprocal effects on the magnitude of functional recovery and spinal cord neuropathology.”

Other researchers from Ohio State who contributed to the study were Jodie C.E. Hall, Lingling Wang, Xiaokui Mo and Zhongtang Yu. The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine in October.

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at

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