Corticospinal reorganization after spinal cord injury

J Physiol. 2012 Aug 15;590(16):3647-63. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2012.233189. Epub 2012 May 14.


The corticospinal tract (CST) is a major descending pathway contributing to the control of voluntary movement in mammals. During the last decades anatomical and electrophysiological studies have demonstrated significant reorganization in the CST after spinal cord injury (SCI) in animals and humans. In animal models of SCI, anatomical evidence showed corticospinal sprouts rostral and caudal to the lesion and their integration into intraspinal axonal circuits. Electrophysiological data suggested that indirect connections from the primary motor cortex to forelimb motoneurons, via brainstem nuclei and spinal cord interneurons, or direct connections from slow uninjured corticospinal axons, might contribute to the control of movement after a CST injury. In humans with SCI, post mortem spinal cord tissue revealed anatomical changes in the CST some of which were similar but others markedly different from those found in animal models of SCI. Human electrophysiological studies have provided ample evidence for corticospinal reorganization after SCI that may contribute to functional recovery. Together these studies have revealed a large plastic capacity of the CST after SCI. There is also a limited understanding of the relationship between anatomical and electrophysiological changes in the CST and control of movement after SCI. Increasing our knowledge of the role of CST plasticity in functional restoration after SCI may support the development of more effective repair strategies.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena
  • Humans
  • Pyramidal Tracts / anatomy & histology*
  • Pyramidal Tracts / physiology*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / pathology*