Tuesday, November 16, 2021

What are the basal ganglia?

Basal ganglia are a group of subcortical nuclei, of varied origin. In humans, and some primates, there are some differences, mainly in the division of the globus pallidus into an external and internal region, and in the division of the striatum. The basal ganglia are situated at the base of the forebrain and top of the midbrain.

Basal ganglia are strongly interconnected with the cerebral cortex, thalamus, and brainstem, as well as several other brain areas. The basal ganglia are associated with a variety of functions, including control of voluntary motor movements, procedural learning, habit learning, conditional learning, eye movements, cognition, and emotion.

The main components of the basal ganglia – as defined functionally – are the striatum, consisting of both the dorsal striatum (caudate nucleus and putamen) and the ventral striatum (nucleus accumbens and olfactory tubercle), the globus pallidus, the ventral pallidum, the substantia nigra, and the subthalamic nucleus.

Each of these components has a complex internal anatomical and neurochemical organization. The largest component, the striatum (dorsal and ventral), receives input from many brain areas beyond the basal ganglia, but only sends output to other components of the basal ganglia.

The globus pallidus receives input from the striatum, and sends inhibitory output to a number of motor-related areas. The substantia nigra is the source of the striatal input of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which plays an important role in basal ganglia function. The subthalamic nucleus receives input mainly from the striatum and cerebral cortex and projects to the globus pallidus.
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Popular theories implicate the basal ganglia primarily in action selection – in helping to decide which of several possible behaviors to execute at any given time. In more specific terms, the basal ganglia’s primary function is likely to control and regulate activities of the motor and premotor cortical areas so that voluntary movements can be performed smoothly.

Experimental studies show that the basal ganglia exert an inhibitory influence on a number of motor systems, and that a release of this inhibition permits a motor system to become active. The “behavior switching” that takes place within the basal ganglia is influenced by signals from many parts of the brain, including the prefrontal cortex, which plays a key role in executive functions.

It has also been hypothesized that the basal ganglia are not only responsible for motor action selection, but also for the selection of more cognitive actions. Computational models of action selection in the basal ganglia incorporate this.

The basal ganglia are of major importance for normal brain function and behaviour. Their dysfunction results in a wide range of neurological conditions including disorders of behaviour control and movement, as well as cognitive deficits that are similar to those that result from damage to the prefrontal cortex. including Tourette syndrome, obsessive–compulsive disorder, and addiction. Movement disorders include, most notably Parkinson’s disease.

The basal ganglia have a limbic sector whose components are assigned distinct names: the nucleus accumbens, ventral pallidum, and ventral tegmental area (VTA). There is considerable evidence that this limbic part plays a central role in reward learning as well as cognition and frontal lobe functioning, via the mesolimbic pathway from the VTA to the nucleus accumbens that uses the neurotransmitter dopamine, and the mesocortical pathway.

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