Background: Polymicrogyria is a malformation of the cerebral cortex often resulting in epilepsy or mental retardation. It remains unclear whether this pathology affects the structure and function of the corticospinal (CS) system. The anatomy and histology of the brain of one macaque monkey exhibiting a spontaneous polymicrogyria (PMG monkey) were examined and compared to the brain of normal monkeys. The CS tract was labelled by injecting a neuronal tracer (BDA) unilaterally in a region where low intensity electrical microstimulation elicited contralateral hand movements (presumably the primary motor cortex in the PMG monkey).
Results: The examination of the brain showed a large number of microgyri at macro- and microscopic levels, covering mainly the frontoparietal regions. The layered cortical organization was locally disrupted and the number of SMI-32 stained pyramidal neurons in the cortical layer III of the presumed motor cortex was reduced. We compared the distribution of labelled CS axons in the PMG monkey at spinal cervical level C5. The cumulated length of CS axon arbors in the spinal grey matter was not significantly different in the PMG monkey. In the red nucleus, numerous neurons presented large vesicles. We also assessed its motor performances by comparing its capacity to execute a complex reach and grasp behavioral task. The PMG monkey exhibited an increase of reaction time without any modification of other motor parameters, an observation in line with a normal CS tract organisation.
Conclusion: In spite of substantial cortical malformations in the frontal and parietal lobes, the PMG monkey exhibits surprisingly normal structure and function of the corticospinal system.