Development and malformations of the human pyramidal tract

J Neurol. 2004 Dec;251(12):1429-42. doi: 10.1007/s00415-004-0653-3.


The corticospinal tract develops over a rather long period of time, during which malformations involving this main central motor pathway may occur. In rodents, the spinal outgrowth of the corticospinal tract occurs entirely postnatally, but in primates largely prenatally. In mice, an increasing number of genes have been found to play a role during the development of the pyramidal tract. In experimentally studied mammals, initially a much larger part of the cerebral cortex sends axons to the spinal cord, and the site of termination of corticospinal fibers in the spinal grey matter is much more extensive than in adult animals. Selective elimination of the transient corticospinal projections yields the mature projections functionally appropriate for the pyramidal tract. Direct corticomotoneuronal projections arise as the latest components of the corticospinal system. The subsequent myelination of the pyramidal tract is a slow process, taking place over a considerable period of time. Available data suggest that in man the pyramidal tract develops in a similar way. Several variations in the funicular trajectory of the human pyramidal tract have been described in otherwise normally developed cases, the most obvious being those with uncrossed pyramidal tracts. A survey of the neuropathological and clinical literature, illustrated with autopsy cases, reveals that the pyramidal tract may be involved in a large number of developmental disorders. Most of these malformations form part of a broad spectrum, ranging from disorders of patterning, neurogenesis and neuronal migration of the cerebral cortex to hypoxic-ischemic injury of the white matter. In some cases, pyramidal tract malformations may be due to abnormal axon guidance mechanisms. The molecular nature of such disorders is only beginning to be revealed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Congenital Abnormalities / embryology
  • Embryonic Development
  • Humans
  • Macaca mulatta / embryology
  • Pyramidal Tracts / abnormalities*
  • Pyramidal Tracts / embryology*