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Peter Pressman, M.D.

What is the Anterior Horn of the Spinal Cord?

By February 27, 2012

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The anterior horn as depicted in Henry Gray's <i>Human Anatomy</i>.

The anterior horn of the spinal cord is frequently mentioned in conversations about motor neuron diseases such as polio or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). When the spinal cord develops, the posterior part becomes responsible for managing most aspects of sensation, and the anterior is more responsible for movement. When you move, the cells of your cerebral cortex send a message to cells in the spinal cord. These cells then relay the message out to the peripheral nervous system and muscles. The nerve cells that are responsible for relaying messages between the brain and the peripheral nervous system are called motor neurons. The nerves that send messages between the cerebral cortex and the spine are called upper motor neurons, and those that relay messages from the spine to the muscles are called lower motor neurons. These neurons communicate by synapses in the anterior horn of the spinal cord, as shown in the image.

Diseases that selectively attack these neurons are called motor neuron diseases. As the name suggests, motor neuron diseases reduce someone's ability to move. The best known example is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, but other examples include polio, primary lateral sclerosis, and Kennedy's disease. Neurologists use their physical exam to determine where the disease is in the body. If the problem is with the upper motor neurons alone, then certain exam findings like rigidity and spasticity may develop, whereas if just the lower motor neurons are involved, other exam findings like atrophy and fasiculations are present. In some forms of motor neuron disease, such as ALS, both upper and lower motor neuron signs are present.

January 1, 2014 at 6:37 pm
(1) Rawan says:

thank you so much for this easy explanation , it helped me a lot .

January 4, 2014 at 10:08 pm
(2) Kathy says:

After the diagnosis and many surgeries for the Hydrocephalus, I had to have the skull bone shaved down in the back of my neck because I had Arnold Chiari Stage I. Does this have anything to do with Fibromyalgia pain. I feel like I have burning and numbness at the same time and it does hurt, but I just live with it. Can u give me any answers to these questions?

Thank You

January 5, 2014 at 1:01 pm
(3) neurology says:

A 2011 study (Watson et al, Neurosurgery 2011) suggested that most patients with FM don’t have Arnold Chiari, though symptoms sometimes overlap. For more information about chronic pain, try these articles: <a href=”http://neurology.about.com/od/Coping/fl/The-Brain-in-Chronic-Pain.htm”>The Brain in Chronic Pain</a> and <a href=”http://neurology.about.com/od/NervousSystem/fl/Pain-in-the-Nervous-System.htm”>Pain in the Nervous System</a>.

January 24, 2014 at 4:19 pm
(4) Kevin says:

Yes, thank you so much for such an easy to understand explanation of the anterior horn cells.
I am a 33 year post SCI C6 quadriplegic, who is 57years old. Recently I have been experiencing some loss of strength in my right arm to the point of effecting my ability to drive. After a MRI I met with a neurosurgeon whose initial evaluation was that as people age, especially after decades of spinal cord injury like mine, there is a loss of anterior horn cells in spinal cord, similar to a post polio victim.
My question is there any known evidence to date
Stem cell treatment might help with replacement of lost anterior horn cells?
I know you are busy, so thank you for any helpful feedback on this….

January 25, 2014 at 1:17 am
(5) neurology says:

The short answer to your question is that while there does seem to be some evidence of efficacy for this technology in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (which also impacts the anterior horn), this evidence is in very early stages right now, and I’m not at all sure that those early results would apply to a different cause of the problem. Stem cell-related and neuro-regenerative medicine is still in very early days, and while I have great hopes for the future, at this point I’d be cautious about trying anything outside of a clinical trial, where at least you would be helping people in the future regardless of whether a treatment worked for you. While I cannot give personal medical advice online, physical and/or occupational therapy would seem a more reliable and less risky approach to someone with weakness. Be sure to talk with your doctor about treatment options.

February 21, 2014 at 11:44 am
(6) Mom says:

Has your neurologist investigated IVIG treatment?

March 28, 2014 at 11:24 pm
(7) Bharat says:

How does one diagnose anterior horn cell disease? Does nerve conduction test help in diagnosing? Is there any cure or treatment for this disease? What is the life expectency of the person affected with this?

April 3, 2014 at 8:30 pm
(8) neurology says:
April 15, 2014 at 12:51 am
(9) James Notley says:

The information on anterior horn cells clears up many of my questions about myself having had polio in 1938. I wish you could find another word than atrophy when in fact muscles and bones do not develop making body parts small. My left leg is short and weak but it is not a condition of atrophy but rather development.

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