Spinal cord injury (SCI) is a complex and devastating condition characterized by disruption of descending, ascending, and intrinsic spinal circuitry resulting in chronic neurologic deficits. In addition to limb and trunk sensorimotor deficits, SCI can impair autonomic neurocircuitry such as the motor networks that support respiration and cough. High cervical SCI can cause complete respiratory paralysis, and even lower cervical or thoracic lesions commonly result in partial respiratory impairment. Although electrophrenic respiration can restore ventilator-independent breathing in select candidates, only a small subset of affected individuals can benefit from this technology at this moment. Over the past decades, spinal cord stimulation has shown promise for augmentation and recovery of neurologic function including motor control, cough, and breathing. The present review discusses the challenges and potentials of spinal cord stimulation for restoring respiratory function by overcoming some of the limitations of conventional respiratory functional electrical stimulation systems.
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