Functional motor control requires perfect matching of the central connections of motoneurons with their peripheral inputs. It is not known, however, to what extent these central circuits are influenced by target muscles, either during development or after a lesion. Surgical interventions aimed at restoring function after peripheral nerve lesions provide an opportunity for studying this interaction in the mature human nervous system. A patient was studied in whom the spinal accessory nerve was anastomosed into a lesioned facial nerve, allowing voluntary contractions of the previously paralysed muscles. This procedure, in addition to replacing the facial neurons at peripheral synapses, allowed a new short latency trigeminospinal accessory reflex of the R1 blink reflex type to be demonstrated, implying that trigeminal neurons had sprouted towards spinal accessory motoneurons over a distance of at least 1 cm. These results show an unexpected influence of the periphery in remodelling central connectivity in humans. The motoneuronal excitability for this R1 reflex response was therefore studied to compare the convergent properties of facial motoneurons (normal side) with those of the spinal accessory motoneurons (operated side) using a classic double shock technique with variable interstimulus intervals (conditioning test stimulus). On the normal side, conditioning stimuli (to the ipsilateral or contralateral infraliminar supraorbital nerve) produced a clearcut facilitation of the R1 blink reflex when the interstimulus interval was 30-80 ms. By contrast, a similar procedure had no effect on the R1 blink reflex mediated via the trigeminal-spinal accessory reflex arc. These data indicate that despite the heterotopic sprouting of some axons from neurons in the XIth nucleus, motoneurons involved in the newly formed reflex arc remain totally inexcitable by other trigeminal afferents and seem unable to ensure a physiological functioning of the normal blink reflex. Thus the functional relevance of the recovered R1 blink response remains unclear.
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