Our movements are shaped by our perception of the world as communicated by our senses. Perception of sensory information has been largely attributed to cortical activity. However, a prior level of sensory processing occurs in the spinal cord. Indeed, sensory inputs directly project to many spinal circuits, some of which communicate with motor circuits within the spinal cord. Therefore, the processing of sensory information for the purpose of ensuring proper movements is distributed between spinal and supraspinal circuits. The mechanisms underlying the integration of sensory information for motor control at the level of the spinal cord have yet to be fully described. Recent research has led to the characterization of spinal neuron populations that share common molecular identities. Identification of molecular markers that define specific populations of spinal neurons is a prerequisite to the application of genetic techniques devised to both delineate the function of these spinal neurons and their connectivity. This strategy has been used in the study of spinal neurons that receive tactile inputs from sensory neurons innervating the skin. As a result, the circuits that include these spinal neurons have been revealed to play important roles in specific aspects of motor function. We describe these genetically identified spinal neurons that integrate tactile information and the contribution of these studies to our understanding of how tactile information shapes motor output. Furthermore, we describe future opportunities that these circuits present for shedding light on the neural mechanisms of tactile processing.
Keywords: genetically identified spinal neurons; sensorimotor integration; spinal cord; tactile information.
Copyright © 2015 the American Physiological Society.