Spinal Cord Gray Matter Anatomy & Functions

Author: Scott A. Sheffield MS

Last update:

The gray matter of the spinal cord is a vital part of the central nervous system and is involved in muscle movement, sensory information like fine touch, proprioception and vibration, and more. 

Anatomy of the spinal cord gray matter:

  • Each arm (or extension) of the gray matter in the spinal cord is referred to as a horn.
  • Projecting towards the back of the spinal cord are the image descriptiondorsal horns (or posterior horns).
  • Projecting towards the front are the image descriptionventral horns (or anterior horns).
  • In the thoracic and upper lumbar regions of the cord, an additional pair of side projections occur, which are called the image descriptionlateral horns.
  • A narrow band of gray matter known as the image descriptiongray commissure stretches across of the center of the spinal cord and connects the two sets of horns.
  • In the middle of the gray commissure is the image descriptioncentral canal, which contains cerebral spinal fluid.

 

Understand white and grey matter with these interactive spinal cord quizzes, diagrams and worksheets.

 

An image showing the gray matter of a spinal cord segment
An image showing the Dorsal horn of the gray matter of a spinal cord segment
An image showing the Ventral horn of the gray matter of a spinal cord segment
An image showing the Lateral horn of the gray matter of a spinal cord segment
An image showing the Gray commissure of the gray matter of a spinal cord segment
An image showing the Central canal of the gray matter of a spinal cord segment
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Functions of the spinal cord gray matter:

  • The gray matter is the area of the spinal cord where many types of neurons synapse.
  • In the image descriptiondorsal horns (or posterior horns), many incoming sensory neurons synapse with interneurons, which then distribute information to other parts of the spinal cord and brain.
  • Some of the interneurons use the image descriptiongray commissure to cross over to the other side of the spinal cord.
  • In the image descriptionventral horns (or anterior horns), descending upper level motor neurons (and other types of neurons) synapse with outgoing lower level motor neurons.
  • In the image descriptionlateral horns, descending autonomic pathway neurons synapse with outgoing sympathetic motor neurons.
An image showing a spinal cord segment without the pathways
An image showing the pathway of the dorsal horn of the spinal cord using sensory and inter neuron (without labels)
An image showing the pathway of the dorsal horn of the spinal cord using sensory and inter neuron
An image showing the pathway of the dorsal horn of the spinal cord using sensory and inter neuron passing through the gray commissure (which are labeled)
An image showing the pathway of the lateral horn of the spinal cord using Upper and Lower motor neurons (without labels)
An image showing the pathway of the lateral horn of the spinal cord using Upper and Lower motor neurons (with labels)
An image showing the pathway of the lateral horn of the spinal cord using 1. Descending autonomic neuron 2. Presynaptic neuron 3. Postsynaptic neuron (without labels)
An image showing the pathway of the lateral horn of the spinal cord using 1. Descending autonomic neuron 2. Presynaptic neuron 3. Postsynaptic neuron (which are labeled)
Pathways of the spinal cord gray matter horns.
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Overview:

[ image descriptionDorsal horn / image descriptionVentral horn / image descriptionLateral horn ]

Test yourself image showing the pathway of the dorsal horn of the spinal cord using sensory and inter neuron numbered without answers
Test yourself image showing the pathway of the dorsal horn of the spinal cord using sensory and inter neuron numbered with answers below
Test yourself image showing the pathway of the lateral horn of the spinal cord using Upper and Lower motor neurons numbered without answers
Test yourself image showing the pathway of the lateral horn of the spinal cord using Upper and Lower motor neurons numbered with answers below
Test yourself image showing the pathway of the lateral horn of the spinal cord using 1. Descending autonomic neuron 2. Presynaptic neuron 3. Postsynaptic neuron numbered without answers
Test yourself image showing the pathway of the lateral horn of the spinal cord using 1. Descending autonomic neuron 2. Presynaptic neuron 3. Postsynaptic neuron numbered with answers below
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