Gray Matter

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The spinal cord has a central core of gray matter that looks somewhat butterfly- or H-shaped in cross sections. The core consists mainly of two dorsal (posterior) horns, which extend toward the dorsolateral surfaces of the cord, and two thicker ventral (anterior) horns, which extend toward the ventrolateral surfaces. The right and left sides are connected by a gray commissure. In the middle of the commissure is the central canal, which is collapsed in most areas of the adult spinal cord, but in some places (and in young children) remains open, lined with ependy-mal cells, and filled with CSF.

As a spinal nerve approaches the cord, it branches into a dorsal root and ventral root. The dorsal root carries sensory nerve fibers, which enter the dorsal horn of the cord and sometimes synapse with an interneuron there. Such interneurons are especially numerous in the cervical and lumbar enlargements and are quite evident in histo-logical sections at these levels. The ventral horns contain the large somas of the somatic motor neurons. Axons from these neurons exit by way of the ventral root of the spinal nerve and lead to the skeletal muscles. The spinal nerve roots are described more fully later in this chapter.

In the thoracic and lumbar regions, an additional lateral horn is visible on each side of the gray matter. It contains neurons of the sympathetic nervous system, which send their axons out of the cord by way of the ventral root along with the somatic efferent fibers.

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