Anatomy and Embryology

, Volume 169, Issue 1, pp 79-89

First online:

The splenius capitis muscle of the rat, architecture and histochemistry, afferent and efferent innervation as compared with that of the quadriceps muscle

  • J. PfisterAffiliated withAnatomisches Institut der Universität Zürich
  • , W. ZenkerAffiliated withAnatomisches Institut der Universität Zürich

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The splenius muscle of the rat was investigated with regard to its structure and innervation. The latter was compared with that of the quadriceps muscle. The results can be summarized as follows: The splenius muscles of both sides form a bipennate muscle plate connecting the occipital bone with the spinous process of the second thoracic vertebra. The lateral parts of both muscles are attached directly to this prominent bony process, whereas the medial parts end in a median raphe which forms a tendinous cranial extension of the second thoracic vertebra. This tendinous extension, showing no connection to the cervical vertebrae, serves also for the attachment of acromio-trapezius muscle fibers. The lateral part of the splenius muscle is divided into two parts by a tendinous intersection.

The splenius muscle consists mainly of fast twitch fibers: 55% were characterized as IIB and 40% as IIA fibers by histochemical demonstration of myosin ATPase-activity. A high content of muscle spindles — 57 spindles per gram of muscle tissue — was found.

Comparing several aspects of the innervation of the splenius to that of the quadriceps muscle, the following results could be obtained:
  1. 1.

    The ratio of motor end plate size to muscle fiber volume is significantly higher in the splenius than in the quadriceps muscle.

  2. 2.

    As demonstrated by transganglionary HRP-transport, the main part of labeled splenius afferents to the spinal cord terminates in the central cervical nucleus. Quadriceps afferents, entering the lower thoracic and upper lumbar segments, mainly end in the area of Clarke's column. Several labeled fibers descend to the sixth lumbar and first sacral segments, where they terminate in the area of Stilling's nucleus.

  3. 3.

    A group of primary afferents from both muscles-most probably III- and IV-afferents — projects to the dorsal laminae of the dorsal horn; terminals from the splenius are accumulated in the lateral parts of these laminae, where-us those of the quadriceps are more concentrated in the medial areas.

  4. 4.

    Within the brain stem, most afferents from the splemus terminate in the external cuneate nucleus. Most of the quadriceps afferents course to the gracile nucleus.

  5. 5.

    Terminals from both muscle nerves were found in the area of the spinal vestibular nucleus.

In conclusion, the most conspicuous results were:
  1. 1)

    Besides the segmental projection to the dorsal horn there is an almost exclusive projection of splenius primary afferents to relay nuclei to the cerebellum.

  2. 2)

    The relatively high ratio: end plate size/muscle fiber volume, which is characteristics of finely adjusting muscles.


These results provide additional clues to the understanding of the particular role of the neck muscles in posture and head movement.

Key words

Splenius muscle Muscle fiber types Primary afferents Spinal cord Brain stem Rat