Motor Control in the Human Spinal Cord

Authors: Milan R. Dimitrijevic 1, Ilse Persy 2,3, Claudia Forstner 2, Helmut Kern 2, and Meta M. Dimitrijevic 1

Source: Artif Organs. 2005; 29: 216-219

Keywords: Spinal cord injury • Motor control • Reflex • Surface electrode polyelectromyography


Features of the human spinal cord motor control are described using two spinal cord injury models: (i) the spinal cord completely separated from brain motor structures by accidental injury; (ii) the spinal cord receiving reduced and altered supraspinal input due to an incomplete lesion. Systematic studies using surface electrode polyelectromyography were carried out to assess skeletal muscle reflex responses to single and repetitve stimulation in a large number of subjects. In complete spinal cord injured subjects the functional integrity of three different neuronal circuits below the lesion level is demonstrated: first, simple mono- and oligosynaptic reflex arcs and polysynaptic pathways; second, propriospinal interneuron system with their cell in the gray matter and the axons in the white matter of the spinal cord conducting activity between different spinal cord segments; and third, internuncial gray matter neurons with short axons and dense neuron contact within the spinal gray matter. All of these three systems participate continuously in the generation of spinal cord reflex output activating muscles. The integration of these systems and their relative degree of excitation and set-up produces characteristic functions of motor control. In incomplete spinal cord injured patients, the implementation of brain motor control depends on the profile of residual brain descending input and its integration with the functional neuronal circuits below the lesion. Locomotor patterns result from the establishment of a new structural relationship between brain and spinal cord. The functions of this new structural relationship are expressed as an alternative, but characteristic and consistent neurocontrol. The more we know about how the brain governs spinal cord networks, the better we can describe human motor control. On the other hand such knowledge is essential for the restoration of residual functions and for the construction of new cord circuitry to expand the functions of the injured spinal cord.


1 Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX, U.S.A.
2 Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Electrical Stimulation and Physical Rehabilitation
3 TU–BioMed Association for Biomedical Engeneering, Vienna University of Technology, Vienna, Austria

Presented in part at the 8th Vienna International Workshop on Functional Electrical Stimulation, held September 10–13, 2004, in Vienna, Austria