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Brain Res Rev. 2008 Jan;57(1):111-7. Epub 2007 Sep 5.

Action-based sensory encoding in spinal sensorimotor circuits.

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  • 1Group of Neurophysiology, Neuronanoscience Research Center, Department of Experimental Medical Research, BMC F10, Lund University, S-221 84 Lund, Sweden. Jens.Schouenborg@med.lu.se


The concept of a modular organisation of the spinal withdrawal reflex circuits has proven to be fundamental for the understanding of how the spinal cord is organised and how the sensorimotor circuits translate sensory information into adequate movement corrections. Recent studies indicate that a task-related body representation is engraved at the network level through learning-dependent mechanisms involving an active probing procedure termed 'somatosensory imprinting' during development. It was found that somatosensory imprinting depends on the tactile input that is associated with spontaneous movements that occur during sleep and results in elimination of erroneous connections and establishment of correct connections. In parallel studies it was found that the strength of the first order tactile synapses in rostrocaudally elongated zones in the adult dorsal horn in the lower lumbar cord is related to the modular organisation of the withdrawal reflexes. Hence, the topographical organisation of the tactile input to this spinal area seems to be action-based rather than a simple body map as previously thought. Far from being innate and adult like at birth, the adult organisation seems to emerge from an initial 'floating' and diffuse body representation with many inappropriate connections through profound activity-dependent rearrangements of afferent synaptic connections. It is suggested that somatosensory imprinting plays a key role in the self-organisation of the spinal cord during development.

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