Hungry? Why wait?* Intermittent fasting improves functional recovery after spinal cord injury.

Spinal cord injury (SCI), while typically anatomically incomplete, often results in the dramatic loss of sensory and motor function with limited recovery.

Dr. Wolfram Tetzlaff, the Associate Director of the International Collaboration On Repair Discoveries (ICORD) and professor in the Departments of Zoology and Surgery at the University of British Columbia, investigated the efficacy of every-other-day fasting (EODF) to improve functional recovery following SCI and found exciting results.

EODF, as it sounds, is the restriction of food for 24 hours every 48 hours (0 to 24 hours without food, 24 to 48 with, 48 to 72 without…).  Though it may sound torturous and unhealthy, EODF and other forms of dietary restriction have been shown to increase lifespan and promote recovery following stroke, as well as other neurologic and non-neurologic diseases.

In two studies (Plunet et al., 2008 and Jeong et al., 2011), Dr. Tetzlaff’s group found that EODF for 7 to 10 weeks following rat cervical and thoracic spinal cord injuries increased neuroprotection, improved functional recovery, and promoted plasticity when compared to control groups either on an ad libitum diet or on basic calorie restriction (comparable to that of EODF) following injury.

Neuroprotection was measured by levels of β-hydroxybutyrate, a neuroprotective ketone, and trkB, a receptor for brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which has been shown to increase neuronal survival and plasticity.  Behavioral outcomes were determined by the number of errors made by the rats while walking across a horizontal ladder with irregularly-spaced rungs, by observation in an open field, and by automated scoring on the catwalk CatWalk.  Neural plasticity was measured by serotonin transporter (SERT) levels.  While there were no significant differences between groups, SERT levels correlated with the significantly differing functional outcomes.  The authors suggest that this may be due to limiting their fiber analysis to serotonergic axons.

(Interestingly, rats that underwent EODF prior to SCI had even greater functional improvement following injury than those on EODF after.  Prophylactic treatment for SCI in humans, however, is unlikely to be provided, especially via a restrictive method such as EODF.)

Wolfram Tetzlaff

EODF is just one method for SCI recovery that Dr. Tetzlaff’s group has investigated.  They have found similar results from the ketogenic diet, primarily used to treat epilepsy.  In addition to their work with dietary interventions, Dr. Tetzlaff’s group developed the use of genetic manipulation and Schwann cell transplantation to regenerate damaged nerve fibers after SCI.

To learn more about these methods, please join us on Tuesday, January 22, 2013, at 4:00pm in the Large Conference Room of the Center for Neural Circuits & Behavior for Dr. Tetzlaff’s talk, “Preclinical strategies for spinal cord injury: from diet to cell transplantation.”


* “HUNGRY? WHY WAIT?” is a trademark of Mars, Incorporated.  The effects of excessive or restricted Snickers consumption before or after spinal cord injury are, to our knowledge, unknown.  (How’s that for a minor prop idea?) 

Jeong M.A., Plunet W., Streijger F., Lee J.H.T., Plemel J.R., Park S., Lam C.K., Liu J. & Tetzlaff W. (2011). Intermittent Fasting Improves Functional Recovery after Rat Thoracic Contusion Spinal Cord Injury, Journal of Neurotrauma, 28 (3) 479-492. DOI:

Plunet W.T., Streijger F., Lam C.K., Lee J.H.T., Liu J. & Tetzlaff W. (2008). Dietary restriction started after spinal cord injury improves functional recovery, Experimental Neurology, 213 (1) 28-35. DOI: