Neurogenic bladder management after spinal cord injury (SCI) is very challenging. Daily urethral catheterization is most commonly used to empty the bladder, which causes frequent infections of the lower urinary tract. This study reports a novel idea to restore both continence and micturition after SCI by an implantable pudendal nerve stimulator (PNS). The PNS was surgically implanted in four cats with complete SCI at T9-T10 spinal level and tested weekly for 13-14 weeks under awake conditions. These chronic SCI cats consistently exhibited large residual bladder volumes (average 40-50 ml) due to their inability to void efficiently, while urine leakage also occurred frequently. The PNS which consisted of stimulating the pudendal nerve at 20-30 Hz to trigger a spinal reflex bladder contraction and at the same time blocking the pudendal nerves bilaterally with 10 kHz stimulation to relax the external urethral sphincter and reduce the urethral outlet resistance successfully induced highly efficient (average 80-100%), low pressure (<50 cmHO) voiding. The PNS at 5 Hz also promoted urine storage by inhibiting reflex bladder activity and increasing bladder capacity. At the end of 14-week chronic testing, low pressure efficient voiding induced by PNS was further confirmed under anesthesia by directly measuring voiding pressure using a bladder catheter inserted through the bladder dome. This study demonstrated the efficacy and safety of the PNS in awake chronic SCI cats, suggesting that a novel neuroprosthesis can be developed for humans to restore bladder function after SCI by stimulating and/or blocking the pudendal nerves.
Copyright © 2021. Published by Elsevier Inc.