Basal ganglia lesions and the theory of fronto-subcortical loops: neuropsychological findings in two patients with left caudate lesions

Neurocase. 2003;9(1):70-85. doi: 10.1076/neur.


Basal ganglia lesions have a high prevalence for associated behavioural impairments. However, the exact pattern of cognitive impairments and its relationship to individual basal ganglia lesion have rarely been investigated by means of a detailed neuropsychological and lesion study. Furthermore, different mechanisms have been proposed as relevant for the observed cognitive deficits; among these, the hypothesis of fronto-subcortical loops (Alexander et al., 1986) has made predictions regarding the relationship between the damage of particular striato-frontal circuits and the resulting behavioural impairment which await clinical confirmation. We present a study of two subjects who suffered a MRI-documented focal left basal ganglia hematoma. The two patients differed in their lesions; in one patient (PJ) large parts of the caudate nucleus were destroyed whereas in the other (AS) mainly the pallidum and putamen were lesioned and the caudate suffered only minor damage. In the acute phase, the behavioural and neuropsychological abnormalities were similar in both cases and included mainly abulia, an impairment of executive and attentional functions, and a severe amnestic syndrome. After several months many functions were restored in AS, whereas PJ's abilities remained largely defective. Based on these data and on previous case studies several conclusions are drawn. Left caudate lesions induce marked and long-lasting behavioural and neuropsychological impairments comprising predominantly drive, executive control, attention, and memory. The extent of lesion in the head of the caudate nucleus is the critical factor regarding the severity and the outcome of the syndrome, whereas damage to the putamen and pallidum is less crucial for cognitive functions. A subset of behavioural alterations, among them abulia, attentional and frontal-executive dysfunctions, can well be attributed to lesions of the anterior cingulate circuit and the dorsolateral-frontal circuit at the basal ganglia level. Other impairments, most importantly the prominent amnestic syndrome, are more difficult to interpret on the grounds of this hypothesis and may be related to other pathomechanisms.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Basal Ganglia / physiopathology*
  • Behavior
  • Caudate Nucleus / physiopathology*
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / physiopathology
  • Cerebral Hemorrhage / psychology
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Frontal Lobe / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Language
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Mathematics
  • Memory
  • Mental Processes
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance