Corticomotoneuronal connections in the rat: evidence from double-labeling of motoneurons and corticospinal axon arborizations

J Comp Neurol. 1991 Sep 15;311(3):356-66. doi: 10.1002/cne.903110306.


In order to investigate the possibility of direct corticomotoneuronal (CM) connections in the rat, an anterograde-retrograde double-labeling method was developed. Phaseolus vulgaris-leucoagglutinin (PHA-L) anterograde tracing of corticospinal axons was combined with retrograde labeling of spinal motoneurons either by a conjugate of choleragen subunit B with horseradish peroxidase (CB-HRP) or by wheat germ agglutinin (WGA). The location of PHA-L injection unilaterally in the forelimb area of sensorimotor cortex and the CB-HRP or WGA injections in corresponding contralateral wrist or digit extensors or flexors were determined and matched on the basis of movement responses elicited by intracortical microstimulation. Light microscopic observation showed, in addition to the main contralateral dorsal corticospinal tract (CST), the presence of four other CST minor components in the contralateral lateral, ipsilateral ventral, and ipsilateral dorsal funiculi of the cervical spinal white matter and at the base of contralateral dorsal horn of the gray matter, respectively. PHA-L-labeled CST axonal arbors were observed from Rexed's lamina I through lamina X of contralateral spinal gray matter, most extensively in laminae VI and VII; some CST axons reached the zone of motoneuronal somata in lamina IX and a few of them also entered the lateral and occasionally the ventral funiculi, ramifying in the white matter. Between the zones of PHA-L-labeled CST axonal arbors on the one hand and CB-HRP/WGA labeled spinal motoneuronal somata with their extensive dendritic trees on the other, there was a large overlap, covering partly both the gray and the white matter. PHA-L-labeled axonal boutons (en passant or terminaux) were seen to contact the dendrites or even the somata of motoneurons in the gray matter, according to light-microscopic criteria for identification of synaptic contacts. Axodendritic CM contacts were occasionally observed in the lateral funiculus of the white matter as well. In general, only a single contact was observed between an individual PHA-L-labeled CST axon and a given retrogradely labeled motoneuron. In contrast to the common notion that direct CM connections are a specialty of primates, the present morphological data support the presence of direct CM connections also in some other mammals, such as the rat.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Afferent Pathways / physiology
  • Animals
  • Axonal Transport
  • Axons / physiology
  • Axons / ultrastructure*
  • Cholera Toxin
  • Efferent Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Efferent Pathways / physiology
  • Horseradish Peroxidase
  • Motor Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Motor Cortex / physiology
  • Motor Neurons / cytology*
  • Motor Neurons / physiology
  • Phytohemagglutinins
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains / anatomy & histology*
  • Spinal Cord / anatomy & histology*
  • Spinal Cord / physiology


  • Phytohemagglutinins
  • cholera toxin, B subunit-horseradish peroxidase
  • leukoagglutinins, plants
  • Cholera Toxin
  • Horseradish Peroxidase