Skip to main content
Medicine LibreTexts

12.7E: Sensory and Motor Tracts

  • Page ID
    7691
  • [ "article:topic" ]

    The spinothalamic tract is a somatosensory tract and the corticospinal tract is a motor tract.

     

    LEARNING OBJECTIVES

     

    Distinguish between sensory and motor tracts

     

    KEY TAKEAWAYS

    Key Points

     

    • The spinothalamic tract is split into the lateral spinothalamic tract that transmits pain and temperature sensation to the thalamus, and the anterior spinothalamic tract that transmits pressure and crude touch sensation to the thalamus.
    • The corticospinal tract is a motor tract comprised of mostly motor axons that carry motor information from the cerebral cortex and brainstem to the musculature for voluntary movement.
    • The corticospinal tract is split into the lateral and anterior corticospinal tracts, which decussate, or cross, in the medulla oblongata. Therefore, the right brain controls the left side of the body, and the left brain controls the right side of the body.
    • Betz cells, the largest pyramidal cells, are only found in the corticospinal tract.

     

    Key Terms

     

    • spinothalamic tract: A sensory pathway originating in the spinal cord. It transmits information to the thalamus about pain, temperature, itch, and crude touch.
    • somatosensory tract: The system that reacts to diverse stimuli using thermoreceptors, nociceptors, mechanoreceptors, and chemoreceptors. The transmission of information from the receptors passes via sensory nerves through tracts in the spinal cord and into the brain.
    • Betz cell: Giant pyramidal cells (neurons) located within the fifth layer of the grey matter in the primary motor cortex. They have a rapid conduction rate of over 70m/sec, which is the fastest conduction of any signals from the brain to the spinal cord.
    • corticospinal tract: The nervous system tract that conducts impulses from the brain to the spinal cord. It contains mostly motor axons and is made up of two separate tracts in the spinal cord: the lateral corticospinal tract and the anterior corticospinal tract.

    The Somatosensory Tract

    The spinothalamic tract is a sensory pathway originating in the spinal cord. It transmits information to the thalamus about pain, temperature, itch, and crude touch. The pathway decussates at the level of the spinal cord.

    Somatosensory organization is divided into the dorsal column–medial lemniscus tract (the touch/proprioception/vibration sensory pathway) and the anterolateral system, or ALS (the pain/temperature sensory pathway). Both sensory pathways use three different neurons to get information from sensory receptors at the periphery to the cerebral cortex.

    These neurons are designated primary, secondary, and tertiary sensory neurons. In both pathways, primary sensory neuron cell bodies are found in the dorsal root ganglia, and their central axons project into the spinal cord.

    Function

    The types of sensory information transmitted via the spinothalamic tract are described as affective sensation. This means that the sensation is accompanied by a compulsion to act. For instance, an itch is accompanied by a need to scratch, and a painful stimulus makes us want to withdraw from the pain.

    There are two subsystems:

    1. Direct (for direct, conscious appreciation of pain).
    2. Indirect (for affective and arousal impact of pain).

    Indirect projections are further divided into:

    • Spino-reticulo-thalamo-cortical (part of the ascending reticular arousal system, also known as ARAS).
    • Spino-mesencephalic-limbic (for affective impact of pain).

    The Corticospinal Tract

    The corticospinal tract conducts impulses from the brain to the spinal cord. It contains mostly motor axons. The corticospinal tract is made up of two separate tracts in the spinal cord: the lateral corticospinal tract and the anterior corticospinal tract.

    The corticospinal tract also contains the Betz cell (the largest pyramidal cells) that are not found in any other region of the body. An understanding of these tracts leads to an understanding of why one side of the body is controlled by the opposite side of the brain.

    The corticospinal tract is concerned specifically with discrete, voluntary, skilled movements, such as the precise movement of fingers and toes. The brain sends impulses to the spinal cord that relay the message.

    This is imperative in understanding that the left hemisphere of the brain controls the RIGHT side of the body, while the right hemisphere of the brain controls the LEFT side of the body. The signals cross in the medulla oblongata, and this process is also known as decussation.

    Spinal cord tracts are identified in this drawing. They are the pyramidal tracts, extrapyramidal tracts, spinocerebellar tracts, the lateral spinothalamic tract, and the anterior spinothalamic tract.

    Spinal cord tracts: Spinal cord tracts are identified.

    Function

    The primary purpose of the corticospinal tract is to maintain voluntary motor control of the body and limbs. However, connections to the somatosensory cortex suggest that the pyramidal tracts are also responsible for modulating sensory information from the body.

    Some of these connections cross the midline; therefore, each side of the brain is responsible for controlling muscles for the limbs on opposite sides of the body. However, control of trunk muscles is on the same side of the body.

    After a patient’s pyramidal tracts are injured, the patient is paralyzed on the corresponding side of the body. Fortunately, they can re-learn some crude, basic motions, but not fine movements. This implies that the connections to these tracts are crucial for fine movement, and only partial recovery is possible if they are damaged.

     

    LICENSES AND ATTRIBUTIONS

    CC LICENSED CONTENT, SHARED PREVIOUSLY

    CC LICENSED CONTENT, SPECIFIC ATTRIBUTION