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The Basal Ganglia. Maryann Martone, Ph. D. NEU257 2/22/2011. What are the basal ganglia?. Depends on whom you’re talking to: Anatomical: Non-cortical nuclei in the forebrain Caudate nucleus, putamen, nucleus accumbens, amygdala, globus pallidus

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the basal ganglia

The Basal Ganglia

Maryann Martone, Ph. D.



what are the basal ganglia
What are the basal ganglia?
  • Depends on whom you’re talking to:
    • Anatomical: Non-cortical nuclei in the forebrain
      • Caudate nucleus, putamen, nucleus accumbens, amygdala, globus pallidus
    • Functional: Richly interconnected set of nuclei in the forebrain and midbrain
system view
System View
  • Dorsal Striatum
    • Caudate nucleus
    • Putamen
  • Ventral Striatum
    • Nucleus Accumbens
    • Olfactory Tubercle
  • Globus Pallidus
    • Internal segment
    • External segment
    • Ventral pallidum
  • Subthalamic nucleus
  • Substantia nigra
    • Pars compacta
    • Pars reticulata
  • Pedunculopontine nucleus**


Other Terms:





Caudate Nucleus

    • C shaped structure (“tail”)
    • Lateral wall of lateral ventricle
    • Head, body and tail

Caudate nucleus

  • Putamen
  • Nucleus accumbens
  • Internal capsule
  • External capsule
  • Extreme capsule
  • claustrum
  • Septum pellucidum
  • Insular cortex
  • Corpus callosum

Caudate nucleus

  • Putamen
  • Globus pallidus external
  • Globus pallidus internal
  • Ventral pallidum
  • Anterior commissure
  • Substantia innominata
  • Internal capsule
  • Lentiform nucleus**

Head, body, tail of caudate

  • anterior and temporal horn of lateral ventricle
  • Globus pallidus internal and external
  • Internal capsule, anterior and posterior limbs

Caudate nucleus (body and tail)

  • Putamen
  • Globus pallidus
  • Subthalamic nucleus
  • Substantia nigra
    • Pars compacta
    • Pars reticulata

Globus pallidus external

  • Globus pallidus internal
  • Subthalamic nucleus
  • Substantia nigra

Subthalamic nucleus

  • Substantia nigra
  • Ventral tegmental area

Globus pallidus and entopeduncular nucleus


Globus pallidus (external) and Globus pallidus (internal)

“Chemical Neuroanatomy” was very important in increasing our understanding of basal ganglia structures
  • Use of different histochemical and immunocytochemical stains revealed more extensive striatal structures than previously thought
  • Also caused revised views of basal ganglia structures in non-mammals and pointed to considerable homologies between birds, mammals and reptiles

From Zhou et al., Nature Neuroscience, 4, 1224 - 1229 (2001) 

functions of the basal ganglia
Functions of the basal ganglia
  • Extrapyramidal motor system
  • Motor planning, sequencing and learning
  • Activity of striatal neurons is not sufficiently explained by the stimuli presented or the movements performed, but depends on certain behavioral situations, certain conditions or particularly types of trials
      • -sensory stimuli but only when the elicit movements
      • -instruction cues (go-no go)
      • -memory related cues
      • -reward (especially ventral striatum)
      • -self-initiated moves
  • Basal ganglia distinguished from cerebellum by connections with limbic system
diseases of the basal ganglia
Diseases of the Basal Ganglia
  • Parkinson’s:
    • Akinesia
    • Bradykinesia
    • Resting tremor
    • Rigidity
  • Huntington’s disease
    • Chorea
    • Psychiatric disturbances
    • Dementia
  • Main neurotransmitter in basal ganglia is GABA
  • 95% of neurons in neostriatum are medium spiny neurons (rodent)
    • Contain GABA
    • Principal neurons: project to globus pallidus and SNpr
    • Subpopulations are distinguished by peptides, neurotransmitter receptors and connections
    • Receive bulk of afferent input
  • Several populations of interneurons
    • aspiny
    • ACh, GABA/parvalbumin, GABA/calretinin; GABA/NPY/NADPH/Somatostatin

From Groves, Brain Res. 286: 109, 1983

the neostriatal mosaic
The Neostriatal Mosaic
  • Neostriatum divided into two compartments: patch (striosome) and matrix
  • First described by Ann Graybiel in 1978 using AChE stain
  • Not visible in Nissl stains (“hidden chemoarchitecture”)
  • Define input/output architecture of neostriatum

From Holt et al., 1997, JCN

  • Afferents (striatum):
    • Cerebral cortex (entire cortex)
    • Thalamus (intralaminar and midline nuclei)
    • Amygdala (basolateral nucleus)
    • Raphe, substantia nigra pars compacta, VTA
  • Efferents (Gpi, VP, SNpr)
    • Ventral tier nuclei of thalamus
    • Superior colliculus
    • Lateral habenular nucleus

All regions of cerebral cortex project to the basal ganglia, but output of basal ganglia is directed towards the frontal lobe, particularly pre-motor and supplementary motor cortex

basic circuit of basal ganglia






Basic Circuit of Basal Ganglia

Cerebral Cortex



VA/VL thalamus

Connections of afferents and within basal ganglia are largely non-reciprocal

some numbers rat
Some numbers (rat)
  • 2.8 million neurons in caudoputamen
  • 46,000 neurons in Gpe
  • 3200 neurons in Gpi
  • 26,000 neurons in SNpr
    • Oorschot (1996)
    • Significant convergence of input from striatum to target nuclei

From Chevalier and Deniau, TINS 13:277, 1990

direct vs indirect pathways
Direct vs indirect pathways
  • Different populations of spiny neurons
  • Enkephalin vs substance P
  • D1 vs D2 receptors

From Graybiel, A. Neural Networks, Am J Psychiatry 158:21, January 2001

facilitation vs inhibition of movement
Facilitation vs inhibition of movement

Albin RL, Young AB, Penney JB.The functional anatomy of basal ganglia disorders.Trends Neurosci. 1989 Oct;12(10):366-75.

  • Akinetic disorders: overactivity in the indirect pathway
    • Dopamine increases activity in the direct pathway and decreases activity in the indirect pathway
    • Loss of dopamine decreases activity in the direct pathway and increase activity in the indirect pathway
      • Increased activity in the indirect pathway = increased activity in the direct pathway = increased inhibition on thalamus
  • Hyperkinetic disorder: overactivity in the direct pathway
    • Projections to the Gpe degenerate early in HD = removal of inhibition = increased activity of indirect pathway
    • Increased activity of indirect pathway = increased inhibition of subthalamic nucleus = decreased excitatory drive on direct pathway = decreased inhibition on thalamus





functional subdivisions
Functional subdivisions
  • Sensorimotor
    • Putamen + globus pallidus/SNpr
    • SNpc
  • Association
    • Caudate nucleus + globus pallidus/SNpr
    • SNpc
  • Limbic
    • Nucleus accumbens + ventral pallidum
    • VTA

From Parent, TINS 13: 254, 1990

neostriatal mosaic and input output organization
Neostriatal Mosaic and Input/Output Organization
  • Most inputs to the neostriatum terminate in a patchy fashion (“matrisomes”)
  • Input from a given cortical region terminates over an extended anterior-posterior extent
  • Functionally related cortical areas project to the same patches
  • Output neurons to a given efferent subregion are also arranged in patches
  • Neurons in patches project to both Gpi/SNpr and GPe




“divergent-reconvergent processing”

From Graybiel et al., The basal ganglia and adaptive motor control, Science, 265: 1826, 1994