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J Mot Behav. 1989 Dec;21(4):493-517.

A comparative review of the primate motor system.

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  • 1Yakovlev Collection, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, DC, USA.


Primates have evolved separately from other mammals since the late Cretaceous, and during this time the two major extant primate groups, prosimians (lorises, lemurs, and tarsiers) and anthropoids (monkeys, apes, and humans) arose. Concurrently, structures within the central nervous system acquired primate characteristics. Not all of the uniquely primate features have been identified in the brain, but several are well known. The pyramidal system, the best studied motor system, shows a distinct primate pattern in its terminal connections in the spinal cord. Other descending systems are less well known, but primate specializations in the vestibular system and red nucleus have been observed. The primary and secondary motor cortices are topographically separated in primates, suggesting one basis for increased complexity. Given the size of the brain, structures in the basal ganglia are relatively enlarged in primates as compared with other mammals, whereas the cerebellum has the same relative size.

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