AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 27, Number 4, 2018

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Spinal Cord Injuries Throw Body Clocks Off Schedule, New Study Shows

Research suggests therapies to re-set circadian rhythm could improve recovery for patients

In the hours and days following a spinal cord injury, the gears that control the body’s internal clocks fall profoundly out of sync, impacting body temperature, hormone fluctuation, immunity and the timing of a host of other bodily processes, according to new CU Boulder research.

The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, is among the first to comprehensively assess how spinal injury impacts circadian rhythms, or the 24-hour-cycles of physiological processes. If replicated in humans, the findings could lead to new “chronotherapies” to reset off-kilter clocks and potentially improve long-term recovery.

It could also have implications for stroke and traumatic brain injury patients, the authors say.

“People often think of the effects of spinal cord injury in terms of the physical tissue damage itself,” said senior author Linda Watkins, a distinguished professor of Behavioral Neuroscience at CU Boulder. “The surprising and important finding here is that localized tissue damage fundamentally changes the rhythms of life.”

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