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Annu Rev Neurosci. 2012;35:559-78. doi: 10.1146/annurev-neuro-062111-150527. Epub 2012 Apr 9.

Circuits for skilled reaching and grasping.

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Department of Integrative Medical Biology, Section of Physiology, Umeå University, S-901 87 Umeå, Sweden.


From an evolutionary perspective, it is clear that basic motor functions such as locomotion and posture are largely controlled by neural circuitries residing in the spinal cord and brain-stem. The control of voluntary movements such as skillful reaching and grasping is generally considered to be governed by neural circuitries in the motor cortex that connect directly to motoneurons via the corticomotoneuronal (CM) pathway. The CM pathway may act together with several brain-stem systems that also act directly with motoneurons. This simple view was challenged by work in the cat, which lacks the direct CM system, showing that the motor commands for reaching and grasping could be mediated via spinal interneurons with input from the motor-cortex and brain-stem systems. It was further demonstrated that the spinal interneurons mediating the descending commands for reaching and grasping constitute separate and distinct populations from those involved in locomotion and posture. The aim of this review is to describe populations of spinal interneurons that are involved in the control of skilled reaching and grasping in the cat, monkey, and human.

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