In some cases of incomplete cervical spinal cord injury (iSCI) there is marked paresis and dysfunction of upper-extremity movement but not lower-extremity movement. A continued explanation of such symptoms is a somatotopic organization of corticospinal tract (CST) fibers passing through the decussation at the craniovertebral junction (CVJ) and lateral CST (LCST). In central cord syndrome, it has been suggested that injury to the core of the cervical cord may include selective damage to medially located arm/hand LCST fibers, without compromising laterally located leg fibers. Because such somatotopic organization in the primate CST might contribute to the disproportionate motor deficits after some forms of iSCI, the authors made a systematic investigation of CST organization in the CVJ and LCST using modern neuroanatomical techniques.
High-resolution anterograde tracers were used in 11 rhesus macaque monkeys to define the course of the corticospinal projection (CSP) through the CVJ and LCST from the arm/hand, shoulder, and leg areas of the primary motor cortex (M1). This approach labels CST fibers of all sizes, large and small, arising in these areas. The CSP from the dorsolateral and ventrolateral premotor cortex and supplementary motor area were also studied. A stereological approach was adapted to quantify labeled fiber distribution in 8 cases.
There was no evidence for somatotopic organization of CST fibers passing through the CVJ or contralateral LCST. Fiber labeling from each cortical representation was widespread throughout the CST at the CVJ and LCST and overlapped extensively with fibers from other representations. This study demonstrated no significant difference between medial versus lateral subsectors of the LCST in terms of number of fibers labeled from the M1 arm/hand area.
This investigation firmly rejects the concept of somatotopy among CST fibers passing through the CVJ and LCST, in contrast with the somatotopy in the cortex, corona radiata, and internal capsule. All CST fibers in the CVJ and LCST would thus appear to be equally susceptible to focal or diffuse injury, regardless of their cortical origin. The disproportionate impairment of arm/hand movement after iSCI must therefore be due to other factors, including greater dependence of hand/arm movements on the CST compared with the lower limb. The dispersed and intermingled nature of frontomotor fibers may be important in motor recovery after cervical iSCI.