Skilled reaching and grasping in the rat: lacking effect of corticospinal lesion

Front Neurol. 2014 Jun 20;5:103. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2014.00103. eCollection 2014.


The corticospinal system is a major motor pathway in the control of skilled voluntary movements such as reaching and grasping. It has developed considerably phylogenetically to reach a peak in humans. Because rodents possess advanced forelimb movements that can be used for reaching and grasping food, it is commonly considered that the corticospinal tract (CST) is of major importance for this control also in rodents. A close homology to primate reaching and grasping has been described but with obvious limitations as to independent digit movements, which are lacking in rodents. Nevertheless, it was believed that there are, as in the primate, direct cortico-motoneuronal connections. Later, it was shown that there are no such connections. The fastest excitatory pathway is disynaptic, mediated via cortico-reticulospinal neurons and in the spinal cord the excitation is mainly polysynaptically mediated via segmental interneurons. Earlier behavioral studies have aimed at investigating the role of the CST by using pyramidotomy in the brainstem. However, in addition to interrupting the CST, a pyramidal transection abolishes the input to reticulospinal neurons. It is therefore not possible to conclude if the deficits after pyramidotomy result from interruption of the CST or the input to reticulospinal neurons or both. We have re-investigated the role of the CST by examining the effect of a CST lesion in the C1-C2 spinal segments on the success rate of reaching and grasping. This lesion spares the cortico-reticulospinal pathway. In contrast to investigations using pyramidal transections, the present study did not demonstrate marked deficits in reaching and grasping. We propose that the difference in results can be explained by the intact cortical input to reticulospinal neurons in our study and thus implicate an important role of this pathway in the control of reaching and grasping in the rat.

Keywords: corticospinal tract lesion; grasping; interneuron; motorneuron; reaching; reticulospinal; skilled forelimb movements.