Hand dexterity has uniquely developed in higher primates and is thought to rely on the direct corticomotoneuronal (CM) pathway. Recent studies have shown that rodents and carnivores lack the direct CM pathway but can control certain levels of dexterous hand movements through various indirect CM pathways. Some homologous pathways also exist in higher primates, and among them, propriospinal (PrS) neurons in the mid-cervical segments (C3-C4) are significantly involved in hand dexterity. When the direct CM pathway was lesioned caudal to the PrS and transmission of cortical commands to hand motoneurons via the PrS neurons remained intact, dexterous hand movements could be significantly recovered. This recovery model was intensively studied, and it was found that, in addition to the compensation by the PrS neurons, a large-scale reorganization in the bilateral cortical motor-related areas and mesolimbic structures contributed to recovery. Future therapeutic strategies should target these multihierarchical areas.
Keywords: functional recovery; motor cortex; precision grip; propriospinal neurons; spinal cord injury.