Neural pathways mediating bilateral interactions between the upper limbs

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2005 Nov;49(3):641-62. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresrev.2005.03.005.


The ease with which we perform tasks such as opening the lid of a jar, in which the two hands execute quite different actions, belies the fact that there is a strong tendency for the movements of the upper limbs to be drawn systematically towards one another. Mirror movements, involuntary contractions during intended unilateral engagement of the opposite limb, are considered pathological, as they occur in association with specific disorders of the CNS. Yet they are also observed frequently in normally developing children, and motor irradiation, an increase in the excitability of the (opposite) homologous motor pathways when unimanual movements are performed, is a robust feature of the mature motor system. The systematic nature of the interactions that occur between the upper limbs has also given rise to the expectation that functional improvements in the control of a paretic limb may occur when movements are performed in a bimanual context. In spite of the ubiquitous nature of these phenomena, there is remarkably little consensus concerning the neural basis of their mediation. In the present review, consideration is given to the putative roles of uncrossed corticofugal fibers, branched bilateral corticomotoroneuronal projections, and segmental networks. The potential for bilateral interactions to occur in various brain regions including the primary motor cortex, the supplementary motor area, non-primary motor areas, the basal ganglia, and the cerebellum is also explored. This information may provide principled bases upon which to evaluate and develop task and deficit-specific programs of movement rehabilitation and therapy.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Upper Extremity / innervation*
  • Upper Extremity / physiology*