|Anatomical terms of neuroanatomy|
The precentral gyrus is a prominent gyrus on the surface of the posterior frontal lobe of the brain. It is the site of the primary motor cortex that in humans is cytoarchitecturally defined as Brodmann area 4.
The precentral gyrus lies in front of the postcentral gyrus - mostly on the lateral (convex) side of each cerebral hemisphere - from which it is separated by the central sulcus. Its anterior border is represented by the precentral sulcus, while inferiorly it borders to the lateral sulcus (Sylvian fissure). Medially, it is contiguous with the paracentral lobule.
The internal pyramidal layer (layer V) of the precentral cortex contains giant (70-100 micrometers) pyramidal neurons called Betz cells, which send long axons to the contralateral motor nuclei of the cranial nerves and to the lower motor neurons in the ventral horn of the spinal cord. These axons form the corticospinal tract. The Betz cells along with their long axons are referred to as upper motor neurons (UMN).
There is a precise somatotopic representation of the different body parts in the primary motor cortex, with the leg area located medially (close to the midline), and the head and face area located laterally on the convex side of the cerebral hemisphere (cortical homunculus). The arm and hand motor area is the largest and occupies the part of precentral gyrus, located inbetween the leg and face area.
As they travel down through the cerebral white matter, the motor axons move closer together and form part of the posterior limb of the internal capsule. They continue down into the brainstem, where some of them, after crossing over to the contralateral side, distribute to the cranial nerve motor nuclei. (Note: a few motor fibers synapse with lower motor neurons on the same side of the brainstem). After crossing over to the contralateral side in the medulla oblongata (pyramidal decussation), the axons travel down the spinal cord as the lateral corticospinal tract. Fibers that do not cross over in the brainstem travel down the separate ventral corticospinal tract and most of them cross over to the contralateral side in the spinal cord, shortly before reaching the lower motor neurons.