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Neuroscientist. 2005 Apr;11(2):161-73.

The corticospinal system: from development to motor control.

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Center for Neurology and Behavior, Columbia University, 1051 Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10032, USA.


The corticospinal system is the principal motor system for controlling movements that require the greatest skill and flexibility. It is the last motor system to develop. The pattern of termination of corticospinal axons, as they grow into the spinal gray matter, bears little resemblance to the pattern later in development and in maturity. Refinement of corticospinal terminations occurs during a protracted postnatal period and includes both elimination of transient terminations and growth to new targets. This refinement is driven by neural activity in the motor cortical areas and by limb motor experience. Developing corticospinal terminals compete with each other for synaptic space on spinal neurons. More active terminals are more competitive and are able to secure more synaptic space than their less active counterparts. Corticospinal terminals can activate spinal neurons from very early in development. The importance of this early synaptic activity appears to be more for refining corticospinal connections than for transmitting signals to spinal motor circuits for movement control. The motor control functions of the corticospinal system are not expressed until development of connectional specificity with spinal cord neurons, a strong capacity for corticospinal synapses to facilitate spinal motor circuits, and the formation of the cortical motor map.

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