Neurons in the subthalamic nucleus occupy a pivotal position in the circuitry of the basal ganglia. They receive direct excitatory input from the cerebral cortex and the intralaminar nuclei of the thalamus, and directly excite the inhibitory basal ganglia output neurons in the internal segment of the globus pallidus and the substantia nigra. They are also engaged in a reciprocal synaptic arrangement with inhibitory neurons in the external segment of the globus pallidus. Although once viewed as a simple relay of extrinsic input to the basal ganglia, physiological studies of subthalamic neurons have revealed that activity in these neurons does not directly reflect their pattern of extrinsic excitation. Subthalamic neurons are autonomously active at rates comparable to those observed in vivo, and they generate complex patterns of intrinsic activity arising from the interactions between voltage sensitive ion channels on the somatodendritic and axonal membranes. Extrinsic synaptic excitation does not create the firing pattern of the subthalamic neuron, but rather controls the timing of action potentials generated intrinsically. The dopaminergic innervation of the subthalamic nucleus, although moderate, can directly influence firing patterns by acting both on synaptic transmission and voltage-sensitive ion channels responsible for intrinsic properties. Furthermore, chronic dopamine depletion in Parkinson's disease may modify both synaptic transmission and integration in the subthalamic nucleus, in addition to its effects on other regions of the basal ganglia.
Copyright © 2011 IBRO. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.