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Neuron. 2011 Nov 3;72(3):419-24. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.10.021.

Motor neurons and the sense of place.

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Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Kavli Institute for Brain Science, Depts. of Neuroscience, and Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics, Columbia University, NY 10032, USA.


Seventy years ago George Romanes began to document the anatomical organization of the spinal motor system, uncovering a multilayered topographic plan that links the clustering and settling position of motor neurons to the spatial arrangement and biomechanical features of limb muscles. To this day, these findings have provided a structural foundation for analysis of the neural control of movement and serve as a guide for studies to explore mechanisms that direct the wiring of spinal motor circuits. In this brief essay we outline the core of Romanes's findings and place them in the context of recent studies that begin to provide insight into molecular programs that assign motor pool position and to resolve how motor neuron position shapes circuit assembly. Romanes's findings reveal how and why neuronal positioning contributes to sensory-motor connectivity and may have relevance to circuit organization in other regions of the central nervous system.

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