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The Organization of the Motor Systems

What is motor control? Classes of Movement Organization of the motor systems Hierarchical vs Parallel Organization of Motor Control: 1-Spinal cord 2-Brain Stem 3-Cortex Why bother study the motor pathways?

What is motor control?

From simple reflexes (knee jerk) to voluntary movements (running away).

Motor Control Requires Sensory Input

Motor control requires sensory input to accurately plan and execute movements. This principle applies to low levels of the hierarchy, such as spinal reflexes, and to higher levels.

Organization of Movement
3 major classes of Movement:
Reflexes Rhythmic motor patterns Voluntary movements
from simple to complex

Three Classes of Movement

1. Reflexes Involuntary, Rapid, Stereotyped (e.g. eye-blink, coughing, knee jerk) graded control by the eliciting stimulus

Stimulus-evoked involuntary muscle contraction Monosynaptic (+) reflex
Knee-jerk Jaw-jerk

Simple neural representation (circuit)

Knee Jerk
From muscle stretch receptors

Ventral horn

to muscle

Three Classes of Movement

2. Rhythmic motor patterns combines voluntary & reflexive acts (e.g. chewing, walking, running) initiation & termination voluntary once initiated, repetitive & reflexive

Three Classes of Movement

3. Voluntary complex actions (e.g. reading, writing, playing piano) Purposeful, Goal-oriented Learned improve with practice ~

Key concepts toward understanding motor control:

Functional Segregation. (a divide and conquer strategy) Different areas that control different aspects of movement. Hierarchical Organization. Different areas of the motor system are organized in a hierarchical fashion.

Organization of Motor System

Hierarchical & Parallel 4 levels of control
Spinal cord (SC) Brainstem Motor Cortex Association Cortex

Division of responsibility
higher levels: general commands spinal cord: complex & specific

Each receives sensory input

relevant to levels function ~

The motor system hierarchy consists of 4 levels: 1- Spinal Cord 2- Brain Stem 3- Motor cortex 4- Association Cortex and 2 side loops: Basal Ganglia Cerebellum

Cortical motor areas Basal ganglia

Descending cortical motor paths Spinal cord: Intermediate zone Ventral horn Muscle

Cerebellum Descending brain stem paths

Functional Hierarchy of Motor Paths

Motor execution: force & direction

Organization of Motor System

Hierarchical & Parallel Parallel
Multiple pathways active simultaneously e.g. moving arm 1. muscles producing movement 2. postural adjustments during movement

Parallel Organization
Association & limbic cortex

Basal ganglia Cerebellum

Hierarchical Control: Spinal Cord

Automatic & stereotyped responses
reflexes rhythmic motor patterns

Can function without brain Spinal interneurons

same circuits as voluntary movement

Pathways converge on E motor neurons

final common path ~

Hierarchical Control: Spinal Cord

Motor neurons in ventral horn: Alpha motor neurons,, Gamma motor neurons and interneurons. Topographical organization of motor nuclei
a.k.a. motor neuron pools

longitudinal columns across 1-4 spinal segments according to 2 rules ~

Topographical organization of motor nuclei


Flexor-Extensor rule lventral: extensors ldorsal: flexors


Proximal-distal rule medial: proximal muscles lateral: distal muscles Parallel control systems proximal: postural distal : manipulative ~

Lateral pathways: limb control

Medial pathways: trunk control

Ventral Horn Organization: Proximal - distal rule

Hierarchical Control: Brain Stem

Modulates neurons in spinal cord
interneuerons & motor neurons

2 main parallel pathways

to ventromedial spinal cord postural / proximal muscles

to dorsolateral spinal cord manipulative / distal muscles ~

Hierarchical Control: Brain Stem

Descending motor pathways are organized into two major groups:
Lateral pathways:
Rubrospinal tract

Medial pathways:
Vestibulospinal tracts (both lateral and medial) Reticulospinal tracts (both pontine and medullary) Tectospinal tract

Brain Stem Pathways

Rubrospinal tract: Facilitate the activity of flexor muscles and inhibit extensors.

Tectospinal tract: eye-head coordination Reticulospinal tract: Facilitate or inhibit voluntary movements or reflex activity. Vestibulospinal tract: Postural activity associated with balance.

Brain stem nuclei

Superior colliculus Tectospinal tract Red nucleus Rubrospinal tract

Vestibular nuclei Vestibulospinal tracts

Reticular formation Reticulospinal tracts

Brain Stem Motor Paths

Medial Lateral

Tectum Reticular formation Tectospinal tract Reticulospinal tracts

Red nucleus

Vestibular nuclei Vestibulospinal tracts Bilateral

Rubrospinal tract


Hierarchical Control: Cortex

Corticobulbar --->cranial nerves
facial muscles

Corticospinal ---> spinal nerves

Origin of axons 1/3 from primary motor cortex (M1) 1/3 from premotor areas 1/3 from somatosensory cortex ~

Cortical Motor Paths



Vestibular & Reticular nuclei Medial brain stem paths Rubrospinal tract

Red nucleus

Ventral corticospinal tract Bilateral

Pyramidal X Lateral Corticospinal tract Contralateral

Corticospinal Tract
Direct control & Indirect control
Parallel pathways

Direct ---> spinal neurons Indirect control via

cortico-reticulospinal tact cortico-rubrospinal tract ~

Corticospinal Tract
More parallel pathways Lateral corticospinal tract
contralateral projections decussate at medullary pyramid distal muscles

Ventral corticospinal tract

ipsilateral projection proximal muscles ~

Cortical areas involved in motor control

Primary motor cortex (M1)

(Association cortex)

- initiation and execution of

movement Premotor and Supplementary motor cortex - initiation of complex movement, planning the movement Posterior parietal cortex contributes to motor planning by the SMA and PMA

Somatotopic map in primary motor cortex

Distorted map: disproportionally large representation of parts requiring greater precision

Why bother study the motor pathways?

Important in understanding the various dysfunctions that can result from damage to the motor system. Multiple parallel paths & diversity of spinal connections
Damage to 1 motor cortex and pre-motor cortex projections recover some lost functions Damage to cortex and brain stem paths recover some lost functions With spinal cord injury. loss of monosynaptic connections and alternate paths via segmental and intersegmental interneurons can recover some lost functions

Ganongs Review of Medical Physiology Control of Movement 9%20movement.ppt. Wikipedia