Concepts of basal ganglia organization have changed markedly over the past decade, due to significant advances in our understanding of the anatomy, physiology and pharmacology of these structures. Independent evidence from each of these fields has reinforced a growing perception that the functional architecture of the basal ganglia is essentially parallel in nature, regardless of the perspective from which these structures are viewed. This represents a significant departure from earlier concepts of basal ganglia organization, which generally emphasized the serial aspects of their connectivity. Current evidence suggests that the basal ganglia are organized into several structurally and functionally distinct 'circuits' that link cortex, basal ganglia and thalamus, with each circuit focused on a different portion of the frontal lobe. In this review, Garrett Alexander and Michael Crutcher, using the basal ganglia 'motor' circuit as the principal example, discuss recent evidence indicating that a parallel functional architecture may also be characteristic of the organization within each individual circuit.