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Cereb Cortex. 2012 Jun;22(6):1463-72. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhs011. Epub 2012 Feb 1.

Areal differences in diameter and length of corticofugal projections.

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Department of Anatomy, Pharmacology and Forensic Medicine, University of Turin, Orbassano, 10126 Turin, Italy.


Cortical areas differ in the size and distribution of neuronal cell bodies, density, and distribution of myelinated axons, connections, and functional properties. We find that they also differ in the diameter of long corticofugal axons, with the thickest axons originating from primary motor, somatosensory, and visual areas and the thinnest ones from prefrontal and temporal areas. Since diameter is proportional to axonal conduction velocity, it can be inferred that action potentials issued from the different areas will be relayed to their targets at different speed. Conduction delays also depend on conduction distance. By computing conduction velocity and conduction distances, we found the longest conduction delays for the primary visual and temporal areas and the shortest for the premotor, primary motor, and somatosensory areas, compatible with the available electrophysiological data. These findings seem to establish a new principle in cortical organization relevant to the pathophysiology of neurological or psychiatric illnesses as well as to the speed of information processing in cortical circuits.

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