Rats are used to model human corticospinal tract (CST) injury and repair. We asked whether rats possess the ability to orient their paw to the reaching target and whether the CST mediates this skill, as it does in primates. To test this ability, called preshaping, we trained rats to reach for pieces of pasta oriented either vertically or horizontally. We measured paw angle relative to the target and asked whether rats used target information attained before contact to preshape the paw, indicating feed-forward control. We also determined whether preshaping improved with practice. We then selectively lesioned the CST in the medullary pyramid contralateral to the reaching forepaw to test whether preshaping relies on the CST. Rats significantly oriented their paw to the pasta orientation before contact, demonstrating feed-forward control. Both preshaping and reaching efficiency improved with practice, while selective CST lesion abrogated both. The loss of preshaping was greatest for pasta oriented vertically, suggesting loss of supination, as seen with human CST injury. The degree of preshaping loss strongly correlated with the amount of skill acquired at baseline, suggesting that the CST mediates the learned component of preshaping. Finally, the amount of preshaping lost after injury strongly correlated with reduced retrieval success, showing an important functional consequence for preshaping. We have thus demonstrated, for the first time, preshaping in the rat and dependence of this skill on the CST. Understanding the basis for this skill and measuring its recovery after injury will be important for studying higher-level motor control in rats.
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