Published on Fri Sep 24 2021

Laryngeal and swallow dysregulation following acute cervical spinal cord injury

Pitts, T., Iceman, K. E., Huff, A., Musselwhite, M. N., Frazure, M. L., Young, K. C., Greene, C. L., Howland, D. R.

Patients with cervical spinal cord injuries likely at increased risk of disordered swallow (dysphagia) and pneumonia. We aimed to determine if acute spinal cord injury would disrupt swallow function in animal models. The thyroarytenoid and thyropharyngeus increased EMG activity during swallow, indicating increased upper airway drive during swallow following cSCI.

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Abstract

Proper function of the larynx is vital to airway protection, including swallow. While the swallow reflex is controlled by the brainstem, patients with cervical spinal cord injuries (cSCI) are likely at increased risk of disordered swallow (dysphagia) and pneumonia, and the underlying mechanisms are unknown. We aimed to determine if acute spinal cord injury would disrupt swallow function in animal models. We hypothesized that 1) loss of descending efferent information to the diaphragm would affect swallow and breathing differently, and that 2) loss of ascending spinal afferent information would alter central swallow regulation to change motor drive to the upper airway. We recorded amplitudes of laryngeal and inspiratory muscle electromyograms (EMGs), submental and pharyngeal muscle EMGs, and cardiorespiratory measures in freely breathing pentobarbital-anesthetized cats and rats. First, we assessed the effect of a lateral hemisection at the second cervical level (C2) in cats during breathing. Posterior cricoarytenoid (laryngeal abductor) EMG activity during inspiration increased nearly two-fold, indicating that inspiratory laryngeal drive increased following cSCI. Ipsilateral to the injury, the crural diaphragm EMG was significantly reduced during breathing (62 {+/-} 25 percent change post-injury), but no animal had a complete termination of all activity; 75% of animals had an increase in contralateral diaphragm recruitment after cSCI, but this did not reach significance. Next, we assessed the effect of C2 lateral hemisection in cats during swallow. The thyroarytenoid (laryngeal adductor) and thyropharyngeus (pharyngeal constrictor) both increased EMG activity during swallow, indicating increased upper airway drive during swallow following cSCI. There was no change in the number of swallows stimulated per trial. We also found that diaphragm activity during swallow (schluckatmung) was bilaterally suppressed after lateral C2 hemisection, which was unexpected because this injury did not suppress contralateral diaphragm activity during breathing. Swallow-breathing coordination was also affected by cSCI, with more post-injury swallows occurring during early expiration. Finally, because we wanted to determine if the chest wall is a major source of feedback for laryngeal regulation, we performed T1 total transections in rats. As in the cat C2 lateral hemisection, a similar increase in inspiratory laryngeal activity (posterior cricoarytenoid) was the first feature noted after rat T1 complete spinal cord transection. In contrast to the cat C2 lateral hemisection, diaphragmatic respiratory drive increased after T1 transection in every rat (215 {+/-} 63 percent change), and this effect was significant. Overall, we found that spinal cord injury alters laryngeal drive during swallow and breathing, and alters swallow-related diaphragm activity. Our results show behavior-specific effects, suggesting that swallow may be more affected than breathing is by cSCI, and emphasizing the need for additional studies on laryngeal function during breathing and swallow after spinal cord injury.