The terminations of corticospinal tract axons in the macaque monkey

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Abstract

This study examined the corticospinal tract in monkey by utilizing the anterograde transport of wheat germ lectin conjugated to horseradish peroxidase (WGA HRP) at the light microscopic level and the axonal transport of 3H-proteins with both light and electron microscopic autoradiographic techniques. The animals survived 3–9 days after the injections of 3H-leucine or 3H-leucine/WGA HRP into either motor or sensory cortices. With the laminar schema of Rexed as a guide to the layers of the spinal gray matter, qualitative and quantitative analyses of labeled projections of the corticospinal tract (CST) were made. With the light microscope, axons from the sensory cortex labeled with WGA-HRP could be observed in the contralateral spinal gray from lamina I to the border of laminae VI/VII, the heaviest distribution being located in medial III–VI. There was a small ipsilateral projection to V and VI. With 3H label, laminae I and II revealed few overlying silver grains; many grains overlay laminae III–VI. Projections from the motor cortex labeled with either WGA-HRP or 3H extended from the contralateral laminae III/IV border into the motor nucleus (lamina IX) and were seen to be somewhat more dense in the lateral areas of the spinal gray. The motor cortex projected heavily to ipsilateral VIII, and in sparse amounts to ipsilateral V and VI.

Electron microscopy of radioactive axons from the sensory cortex to dorsal horn revealed many radioactive myelinated fibers and some labeled non-myelinated axons. Labeled terminals contacted medium to small dendrites; there were a few labeled C-type profiles in glomeruli and occasional axo-axonal or dendro-axonal contacts, the labeled cortical axons being the postsynaptic structure. In ventral horn following motor cortex injections, the labeled axons were all myelinated. The synaptic contacts were found on small, medium, and large proximal dendrites as well as on cell bodies. Labeled terminals which formed the central element in glomeruli were also seen in this region. Most of the labeled corticospinal terminals in dorsal and ventral horn contained rounded vesicles, but a significant number revealed pleomorphic vesicles. The relationship of these morphological findings to physiological studies of the CST is presented.

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