The role of the corticospinal tract in the evolution of human digital dexterity

Brain Behav Evol. 1983;23(3-4):165-83. doi: 10.1159/000121494.


A morphometric analysis of the corticospinal tract's relation to digital dexterity was performed on 21 species theoretically related to man's ancestral lineage. The results indicate that the Primate line is not unique among mammals with respect to the cortical control of digital dexterity. A comparative analysis suggests that two changes took place early in Primate evolution: a reduction in functional distance (i.e. number of synapses) between neocortex and spinal motor neurons innervating the digits, and an extension of direct neocortical influence beyond the cervical segments of the spinal cord. A further change progressed throughout Primate evolution, from the mid-Eocene to the present, in which the overall size of the corticospinal tract increased steadily as though consolidating the cortical influence over body musculature, especially that of the digits.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Pyramidal Tracts / physiology
  • Spinal Cord / physiology*