Spinal Cord Anatomy and Clinical Syndromes

Semin Ultrasound CT MR. 2016 Oct;37(5):360-71. doi: 10.1053/j.sult.2016.05.002. Epub 2016 May 6.


We review the anatomy of the spinal cord, providing correlation with key functional and clinically relevant neural pathways, as well as magnetic resonance imaging. Peripherally, the main descending (corticospinal tract) and ascending (gracilis or cuneatus fasciculi and spinothalamic tracts) pathways compose the white matter. Centrally, the gray matter can be divided into multiple laminae. Laminae 1-5 carry sensitive neuron information in the posterior horn, and lamina 9 carries most lower motor neuron information in the anterior horn. Damage to the unilateral corticospinal tract (upper motor neuron information) or gracillis-cuneatus fasciculi (touch and vibration) correlates with ipsilateral clinical findings, whereas damage to unilateral spinothalamic tract (pain-temperature) correlates with contralateral clinical findings. Damage to commissural fibers correlates with a suspended bilateral "girdle" sensory level. Autonomic dysfunction is expected when there is bilateral cord involvement.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Spinal Cord / anatomy & histology*
  • Spinal Cord / diagnostic imaging*
  • Spinal Cord Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Syndrome