Somatotopy of digital nerve projections to the cuneate nucleus in the monkey

James L. Culberson, Thomas M. Brushart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Somatotopic arrangements of cells and fibers within the dorsal columns and the dorsal column nuclei have been mapped most precisely by electrophysiological recording methods. This study uses an anatomical approach to evaluate the precision of individual digital nerve projections to the cuneate nucleus (CN) in young macaque monkeys. Digital nerves supplying about one-half the palmar skin of a digit were surgically exposed, cut, and treated with wheatgerm agglutinin conjugated to horseradish peroxidase (WGA:HRP) on 3 successive days. After 2 additional days, animals were killed and medullas were recovered for study of serial sections reacted to display axons labeled by transganglionic transport of label. Labeled afferent fibers from each digit were found within a circumscribed columnar zone extending through the caudal CN and rostrally throughout the pars rotunda of CN. At caudal levels, diffuse projections reach the dorsal edge of the CN; more rostrally, they shift into deeper parts of the nucleus and are heaviest along its ventral and medial edges at levels near the obex. Fibers from the thumb (digit 1) project lateral (and ventral) to those from digit 2, and projections from digit 3 are medial to those from 2. Each digital projection field is closely adjacent to that from the adjacent digit. Few fibers extend to the rostral CN. Projection fields of homologous digits are quite symmetrical on the two sides. Although there do seem to be some differences in the somatotopic arrangement of digital input in macaques compared to other nonprimate mammals studied previously, these observations (precisely organized, circumscribed fields for separate digits) define a system well designed for transmission of data encoding spatial relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)319-330
Number of pages12
JournalSomatosensory & Motor Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1989


  • Medulla oblongata
  • Somatosensory system
  • Somatotopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Sensory Systems


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