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Brain. 2001 Nov;124(Pt 11):2232-58.

Variability and asymmetry in the human precentral motor system. A cytoarchitectonic and myeloarchitectonic brain mapping study.

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Department of Neurology and Institute of Medicine, Jülich, Germany.


The morphology of the region of the primary motor cortex in the human brain is variable, and putative asymmetries between the hemispheres have been noted since the beginning of last century. Such variability may confound the results of clinical lesion or functional activation studies. We measured Brodmann area (BA) 4 and the identifiable precentral component of the pyramidal tract (PRPT) in 11 human post-mortem brains using techniques of quantitative cytoarchitectonic and myeloarchitectonic image analysis. Topography and variability in the localization of architectonic borders were analysed and mapped to a computerized spatial reference system, which consists of an individual in vivoMRI brain. All maps were superimposed to produce probabilistic maps of BA 4 and PRPT which can be co-registered with any image of brain structure or function that has also been transformed to Talairach coordinates. These maps can be readily applied to future brain mapping studies. We observed a considerable degree of variability between hemispheres (intra-individual) and between brains (inter-individual). The variation zones of BA 4 and PRPT differ from the templates of the Talairach atlas. Voxel-based morphometry shows significant side differences with larger volumes of PRPT in the left hemisphere than in the right hemisphere. This larger volume of the descending cortical motor fibres may be related to the known left-hemisphere dominance for handedness in >90% of the population. In contrast, BA 4 was symmetrically organized. The lack of a significant correlation between the size of BA 4 and the size of PRPT may relate to the fact that additional non-primary motor and sensory cortices contribute to the origins and size of the pyramidal tract proper.

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