Research Article

Contribution of propriospinal neurons to recovery of hand dexterity after corticospinal tract lesions in monkeys

The direct cortico-motoneuronal connection is believed to be essential for the control of dexterous hand movements, such as precision grip in primates. It was reported, however, that even after lesion of the corticospinal tract (CST) at the C4–C5 segment,
precision grip largely recovered within 1–3 mo, suggesting that the recovery depends on transmission through intercalated neurons rostral to the lesion, such as the propriospinal neurons (PNs) in the midcervical segments. To obtain direct evidence for the contribution of PNs to recovery after CST lesion, we applied a pathway-selective and reversible blocking method using double viral vectors to the PNs in six monkeys after CST lesions at C4–C5. In four monkeys that showed nearly full or partial recovery, transient blockade of PN transmission after recovery caused partial impairment of precision grip. In the other two monkeys, CST lesions were made under continuous blockade of PN transmission that outlasted the entire period of postoperative observation (3–4.5 mo). In these monkeys, precision grip recovery was not
achieved. These results provide evidence for causal contribution of the PNs to recovery of hand dexterity after CST lesions; PN transmission is necessary for promoting the initial stage recovery; however, their contribution is only partial once the recovery
is achieved.


As a whole, the S&C and physical therapy worlds have started to put a lot of emphasis on the role the brain plays in movement. BUT, no one talks about how important the spinal cord is! This is the first paper, that has shown the importance of propriospinal neurons – neurons that have cell bodies and axons in the spinal cord NOT THE BRAIN – play a major role in governing fine motor control such as hand dexterity, at least as it relates to recovery from injury.

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