The pontomedullary reticular formation (RF) is a key site responsible for integrating descending instructions to execute particular movements. The indiscrete nature of this region has led not only to some inconsistencies in nomenclature, but also to difficulties in understanding its role in the control of movement. In this review article, we first discuss nomenclature of the RF, and then examine the reticulospinal motor command system through evolution. These command neurons have direct monosynaptic connections with spinal interneurons and motoneurons. We next review their roles in postural adjustments, walking and sleep atonia, discussing their roles in movement activation or inhibition. We propose that knowledge of the internal organization of the RF is necessary to understand how the nervous system tunes motor commands, and that this knowledge will underlie strategies for motor functional recovery following neurological injuries or diseases.
Keywords: locomotion; mesencephalic locomotor region; microcircuits; reticular formation; sleep atonia.