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J Neurophysiol. 2001 Oct;86(4):1573-86.

Investigation into non-monosynaptic corticospinal excitation of macaque upper limb single motor units.

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Sobell Department of Neurophysiology, Institute of Neurology, University College London, London WC1N 3BG, United Kingdom.


There has been considerable recent debate as to relative importance, in the primate, of propriospinal transmission of corticospinal excitation to upper limb motoneurons. Previous studies in the anesthetized macaque monkey suggested that, compared with the cat, the transmission of such excitation via a system of C3-C4 propriospinal neurons may be relatively weak. However, it is possible that in the anesthetized preparation, propriospinal transmission of cortical inputs to motoneurons may be depressed. To address this issue, the current study investigated the responses of single motor units (SMUs) to corticospinal inputs in either awake (n = 1) or lightly sedated (n = 3) macaque monkeys. Recordings in the awake state were made during performance of a precision grip task. The responses of spontaneously discharging SMUs to electrical stimulation of the pyramidal tract (PT) via chronically implanted electrodes were examined for evidence of non-monosynaptic, presumed propriospinal, effects. Single PT stimuli (up to 250 microA; duration, 0.2 ms, 2 Hz) were delivered during steady discharge of the SMU (10-30 imp/s). SMUs were recorded from muscles acting on the thumb (adductor pollicis and abductor pollicis brevis, n = 18), wrist (extensor carpi radialis, n = 29) and elbow (biceps, n = 9). In all SMUs, the poststimulus time histograms to PT stimulation consisted of a single peak at a fixed latency and with a brief duration [0.74 +/- 0.25 (SD) ms, n = 56], consistent with the responses being mediated by monosynaptic action of cortico-motoneuronal (CM) impulses. Later peaks, indicating non-monosynaptic action, were not present even when the probability of the initial peak response was low and when there was no evidence for suppression of ongoing SMU activity following this peak (n = 20 SMUs). Even when repetitive (double-pulse) PT stimuli were used to facilitate transmission through oligosynaptic linkages, no later peaks were observed (16 SMUs). In some thumb muscle SMUs (n = 8), responses to PT stimulation were compared with those evoked by transcranial magnetic stimulation, using a figure-eight coil held over the motor cortex. Responses varied according the orientation of the coil: in the latero-medial position, single peak responses similar to those from the PT were obtained; their latencies confirmed direct excitation of CM cells, and there were no later peaks. In the posterio-anterior orientation, responses had longer latencies and consisted of two to three subpeaks. At least under the conditions that we have tested, the results provide no positive evidence for transmission of cortical excitation to upper limb motoneurons by non-monosynaptic pathways in the macaque monkey.

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