Reticulospinal contributions to gross hand function after human spinal cord injury

Stuart N. Baker*, Monica A Perez

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


Multiple descending motor pathways likely contribute to the recovery of hand motor function following spinal cord injury (SCI). Reticulospinal neurons project to spinal motor neurons controlling hand muscles and extensively sprout into gray matter structures after SCI; therefore, it has been proposed that the reticulospinal tract is one of the descending motor pathways involved in recovery of hand function after injury. To test this hypothesis, we examined the Start React response, an involuntary release of a planned movement via a startling stimulus that engages the reticulospinal tract, by measuring reaction times from electromyographic activity in an intrinsic finger muscle during three motor tasks requiring different degrees of hand dexterity: index finger abduction, a precision grip, and a power grip. Males and females with and without incomplete chronic cervical SCI were tested. We found that although SCI participants voluntarily responded to all tasks, reaction times were shorter during a startle cue while performing a power grip but not index finger abduction or precision grip. Control subjects had similarly shorter reaction times during a startle cue in all motor tasks. These results provide the first evidence for a contribution of the reticulospinal tract to hand control in humans with SCI during gross finger manipulations and suggest that this contribution is less pronounced during fine dexterous finger movements.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9778-9784
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number40
StatePublished - Oct 4 2017


  • Corticospinal tract
  • Grasping
  • Hand control
  • Primary motor cortex
  • Tetraplegia
  • Voluntary drive

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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