Skilled digit movements in feline and primate – recovery after selective spinal cord lesions

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Recovery of voluntary movements after partial spinal cord injury depends, in part, on a take-over of function via unlesioned pathways. Using precise forelimb movements in the cat as model, spinal pathways contributing to motor restitution have been investigated in more detail. The food-taking movement by which the cat graSPS a morsel of food with the digits and brings it to the mouth is governed by interneurones in the forelimb segments (C6-Th1) and is normally controlled via the cortico- and rubrospinal tracts. Food-taking disappears after transection of these pathways in the dorsal part of the lateral funiculus (DLF) in C5/C6, but then recovers during a period of 2–3 weeks. Experiments with double lesions showed that the recovery depends on a take-over via ipsilateral ventral systems; a ventrally descending pathway, most probably cortico-reticulospinal, and a pathway via propriospinal neurones in the C3–C4 segments. It is postulated that the recovery involves a plastic reorganization of these systems. Dexterous finger movements in the macaque monkey are generally considered to depend on the monosynaptic cortico-motoneuronal (CM) connexion, which is lacking in the cat. Such movements are abolished after pyramidotomy at the level of the trapezoid body. However, experiments with transection of the corticospinal tract in the DLF and partly ventral part of the lateral funiculus in C5, showed a fast (1–28 days) recovery of precision grip and, to some extent, independent finger movements. Deficits in preshaping during the final approach to the morsel as well as lack of force were observed. A C5 DLF lesion spares corticofugal pathways to the brainstem and upper cervical segments. It is suggested that indirect corticomotoneuronal pathways may provide for recovery of dexterous finger movements and that the role of CM pathways for such movements should be broadened to include not only the monosynaptic connexion.

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