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Ascending Tracts


Introduction

They are located in the white matter and conduct afferent information (may or may not reach consciousness). There are two types of information:

  1. Exteroceptive : originates from outside the body (pain, temperature and touch
  2. Proprioceptive : originates from inside the body (from muscles and joints)

Normally there are three neurons in an ascending pathway:

  1. 1st order neuron: cell body is in the posterior root ganglion
  2. 2nd  order neuron: decussates (crosses to the opposite side) and ascends to a higher level of the    CNS
  3. 3rd neuron: located in the thalamus and passes to a sensory region of the cortex

Pain and temperature pathway: lateral spinothalmic tract

1st order neuron

Peripheral process extends to skin or other tissues and ends as free nerve endings (receptors). Cell body is situated in the posterior root ganglion. Central process extends into the posterior grey column and synapses with the 2nd order neuron.

2nd order neuron

The axon crosses obliquely to the opposite side in the anterior grey and white commissures within one spinal segment of the cord. It ascends in the contralateral white column as the lateral spinothalamic tract (LSTT).

As the LSTT ascends through the spinal cord new fibers are added to the anteromedial aspect of the tract (sacral fibers are lateral and cervical fibers are medial). The fibers carrying pain are situated anterior to those conducting temperature.

As the LSTT ascends through the medulla oblongata,  it’s  joined  by  the  anterior spinothalamic tract and the spinotectal tract and forms the spinal lemniscus. Spinal lemniscus ascends through the pons and the mid brain.

Fibers of the LSTT end by synapsing with the 3rd order  neurons  in  the  ventral  posterolateral nucleus  of  the  thalamus  (here  crude  pain  and temperature sensations are appreciated).

3rd order neuron

Axons pass through the posterior limb of the internal capsule and corona radiata  to reach the somatosensory  area  in  the  post  central  gyrus  of  the  cerebral  cortex.  From  here  information is transmitted to other regions of the cerebral cortex to be used by motor areas. The role of the cerebral  cortex  is  interpreting  the  quality  of  the  sensory  information  at  the  level  of  the consciousness.

Light (crude) touch and pressure pathway: anterior spinothalamic tract (ASTT)

1st order neuron

It is similar to the pain and temperature pathway.

2nd order neuron

The axon crosses obliquely to the opposite side in the anterior grey and white commissures within several spinal segments. It ascends in the contralateral white column as the anterior spinothalamic tract (ASTT). As the ASTT ascends through the spinal cord new fibers are added to the anteromedial aspect of the tract (sacral fibers are lateral and cervical fibers are medial).

As the ASTT ascends through the medulla oblongata, it’s joined by the lateral spinothalamic tract and the spinotectal tract and forms the spinal lemniscus. Spinal lemniscus ascends through the pons and the midbrain. Fibers of the ASTT end by synapsing with the 3rd order neurons in the ventral posterolateral nucleus of the thalamus (here crude awareness of touch and pressure sensations are appreciated).

3rd order neuron

Axons pass through the posterior limb of the internal capsule and corona radiata to reach the somatosensory area in the post central gyrus of the cerebral cortex. The sensations can be crudely localized. Very little discrimination is possible.

To read more click on this link to the full article: Ascending Tracts (pdf).

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