Motoneurons of twitch and nontwitch extraocular muscle fibers in the abducens, trochlear, and oculomotor nuclei of monkeys

J Comp Neurol. 2001 Sep 24;438(3):318-35. doi: 10.1002/cne.1318.


Eye muscle fibers can be divided into two categories: nontwitch, multiply innervated muscle fibers (MIFs), and twitch, singly innervated muscle fibers (SIFs). We investigated the location of motoneurons supplying SIFs and MIFs in the six extraocular muscles of monkeys. Injections of retrograde tracers into eye muscles were placed either centrally, within the central SIF endplate zone; in an intermediate zone, outside the SIF endplate zone, targeting MIF endplates along the length of muscle fiber; or distally, into the myotendinous junction containing palisade endings. Central injections labeled large motoneurons within the abducens, trochlear or oculomotor nucleus, and smaller motoneurons lying mainly around the periphery of the motor nuclei. Intermediate injections labeled some large motoneurons within the motor nuclei but also labeled many peripheral motoneurons. Distal injections labeled small and medium-large peripheral neurons strongly and almost exclusively. The peripheral neurons labeled from the lateral rectus muscle surround the medial half of the abducens nucleus: from superior oblique, they form a cap over the dorsal trochlear nucleus; from inferior oblique and superior rectus, they are scattered bilaterally around the midline, between the oculomotor nucleus; from both medial and inferior rectus, they lie mainly in the C-group, on the dorsomedial border of oculomotor nucleus. In the medial rectus distal injections, a "C-group extension" extended up to the Edinger-Westphal nucleus and labeled dendrites within the supraoculomotor area. We conclude that large motoneurons within the motor nuclei innervate twitch fibers, whereas smaller motoneurons around the periphery innervate nontwitch, MIF fibers. The peripheral subgroups also contain medium-large neurons which may be associated with the palisade endings of global MIFs. The role of MIFs in eye movements is unclear, but the concept of a final common pathway must now be reconsidered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abducens Nerve / cytology*
  • Abducens Nerve / physiology
  • Animals
  • Brain Stem / cytology*
  • Brain Stem / physiology
  • Cell Size / physiology
  • Cholera Toxin / pharmacokinetics
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Iodine Radioisotopes / pharmacokinetics
  • Macaca / anatomy & histology*
  • Macaca / physiology
  • Motor Neurons / cytology*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / classification
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / cytology*
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / physiology
  • Neuromuscular Junction / cytology
  • Neuromuscular Junction / physiology
  • Oculomotor Muscles / cytology
  • Oculomotor Muscles / innervation*
  • Oculomotor Muscles / physiology
  • Oculomotor Nerve / cytology*
  • Oculomotor Nerve / physiology
  • Trochlear Nerve / cytology*
  • Trochlear Nerve / physiology
  • Wheat Germ Agglutinin-Horseradish Peroxidase Conjugate / pharmacokinetics
  • Wheat Germ Agglutinins / pharmacokinetics


  • Iodine Radioisotopes
  • Wheat Germ Agglutinin-Horseradish Peroxidase Conjugate
  • Wheat Germ Agglutinins
  • Cholera Toxin