Descending Pathways in Motor Control

Annual Review of Neuroscience

Vol. 31:195-218 (Volume publication date 21 July 2008)
First published online as a Review in Advance on April 4, 2008


Each of the descending pathways involved in motor control has a number of anatomical, molecular, pharmacological, and neuroinformatic characteristics. They are differentially involved in motor control, a process that results from operations involving the entire motor network rather than from the brain commanding the spinal cord. A given pathway can have many functional roles. This review explores to what extent descending pathways are highly conserved across species and concludes that there are actually rather widespread species differences, for example, in the transmission of information from the corticospinal tract to upper limb motoneurons. The significance of direct, cortico-motoneuronal (CM) connections, which were discovered a little more than 50 years ago, is reassessed. I conclude that although these connections operate in parallel with other less direct linkages to motoneurons, CM influence is significant and may subserve some special functions including adaptive motor behaviors involving the distal extremities.