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Exp Brain Res. 1999 Sep;128(1-2):101-8.

Parallel pathways mediating manual dexterity in the macaque.

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Brain Research Laboratory, Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, University of Melbourne, Parkville, Victoria 3052, Australia,


Transmission of information along appropriately structured parallel pathways ensures that a great deal of information can be transferred from the source to the target very quickly, and with great security-essential features of any motor control system. Studies over the last two decades have established that the corticospinal and corticocerebellar pathways mediating manual dexterity in the primate are structurally organized to sustain the parallel transmission of sensorimotor information in multiple pathways. Serial, hierarchical control systems now seem insufficient to regulate voluntary hand movements. To achieve the required coordination, and precision and speed of execution, they must be combined with parallel control systems, which themselves incorporate elaborate feedforward and feedback controls. To illustrate these issues, two aspects of the structural organization of parallel sensorimotor pathways mediating manual dexterity in the macaque are reviewed. First, we examine the structure of the multiple corticospinal neuron subpopulations projecting from different areas of the frontoparietal cortex and how they are modified following hemisection of the cervical spinal cord. The remarkable recovery of hand function following spinal hemisection, despite the absence of any structural 'bridging' of the interrupted spinal pathways, and the fact that this is accountable in a parallel but not in a purely serial transmission system, are then reviewed. The second aspect of parallel distributed transmission examined is its occurrence within a single population of relay neurons. Our recent structural analysis of the somatic/dendritic organization of rubrospinal neurons in macaque red nucleus is used. The very large dendritic fields of individual neurons, extending over one-third or more of the nucleus, provide a framework for extracting precise somatotopic information from an input population whose axon terminal arbors overlap extensively, and, which, without effective filtering, would provide poor spatial resolution.

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