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Prog Brain Res. 2001;130:267-78.

Distributed processing in the motor system: spinal cord perspective.

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  • 1University of Washington, Department of Physiology and Biophysics and the Regional Primate Research Center, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.


Recordings of spinal INs during a flexion/extension wrist task with an instructed delay period have shown directly that many spinal neurons modulate their rate during the preparatory period soon after a visual cue. The onset time and the relation between the delay period activity of spinal INs and the ensuing movement response suggest that this type of activity is not simply related to the forthcoming motor action, but rather reflects a correct match between the visual cue and the motor response. The existence of such activity further supports the notion that the motor system operates in a parallel mode of processing, so that even during early stages of motor processing multiple centers are activated regardless of their anatomical distance from muscles. The firing properties of spinal INs during the performance of the task seem to differ from the comparable properties of motor cortical cells. Spinal INs fire in a highly regular manner--their CV is substantially lower than the observed CV of cortical cells. Also, although neighboring cells tend to have similar response properties, the frequency of significant correlation is lower than for cortical cells and the anatomical extent of the correlation seems to be narrower. The similarity and differences between cortical and spinal cells in terms of response and firing properties suggests that while both type of cells are active in parallel throughout the behavioral phases of the motor task, each may operate in a different mode of information processing.

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