Spinal commissural connections to motoneurons controlling the primate hand and wrist

J Neurosci. 2013 Jun 5;33(23):9614-25. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0269-13.2013.


Left-right coordination is essential for locomotor movements and is partly mediated by spinal commissural systems. Such coordination is also essential for reaching and manipulation in primates, but the role of spinal commissural systems here has not been studied. We investigated commissural connectivity to motoneurons innervating forelimb muscles using intracellular recordings in acutely anesthetized macaque monkeys. In 57 of 81 motoneurons, synaptic responses (52 of 57 excitatory) were evoked after contralateral intraspinal microstimulation in the gray matter (cISMS; 300 μA maximum current intensity). Some responses (15 of 57) occurred at latencies compatible with a monosynaptic linkage, including in motoneurons projecting to intrinsic hand muscles (9 cells). Three pieces of evidence suggest that these effects reflected the action of commissural interneurons. In two cells, preceding cISMS with stimulation of the contralateral medial brainstem descending pathways facilitated the motoneuron responses, suggesting that cISMS acted on cell bodies whose excitability was increased by descending inputs. Pairing cISMS with stimulation of the contralateral corticospinal tract yielded no evidence of response occlusion in 16 cells tested, suggesting that the effects were not merely axon reflexes generated by stimulation of corticospinal axon branches, which cross the midline. Finally, stimulation of contralateral peripheral nerves evoked responses in 28 of 52 motoneurons (7 of 9 projecting to the hand). Our results demonstrate the existence of commissural neurons with access to spinal motoneurons in primate cervical spinal cord that receive inputs from the periphery as well as descending pathways. Most importantly, commissural neurons also innervate motoneurons of intrinsic hand muscles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electric Stimulation / methods
  • Female
  • Hand / innervation*
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Primates
  • Pyramidal Tracts / physiology*
  • Spinal Cord / physiology
  • Wrist / innervation*