After peripheral nerve injury, there are important changes at the spinal level that can lead to disorganization of the central circuitry and thus compromise functional recovery even if axons are able to successfully regenerate and reinnervate their target organs. Physical rehabilitation is a promising strategy to modulate these plastic changes and thus to improve functional recovery after the damage of the nervous system. Forced exercise in a treadmill is able to partially reverse the synaptic stripping and the loss of perineuronal nets that motoneurons suffer after peripheral nerve injury in animal models. The aim of this study was to investigate whether passive exercise, by means of cycling in a motorized bicycle, or voluntary free running in a wheel is able to mimic the effects induced by forced exercise on the changes that axotomized motoneurons suffer after peripheral nerve injury. Partial preservation of synapses and perineuronal nets was observed only in axotomized motoneurons from animals subjected to high-intensity cycling and the ones that freely ran long distances, but not when low-intensity exercise protocols were applied. Therefore, the intensity but not the type of exercise used is the key element to prevent synaptic stripping and loss of perineuronal nets in motoneurons after axotomy.

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