Direct and indirect pathways of basal ganglia: a critical reappraisal

Nat Neurosci. 2014 Aug;17(8):1022-30. doi: 10.1038/nn.3743. Epub 2014 Jul 28.


The basal ganglia are subcortical nuclei controlling voluntary actions and have been implicated in Parkinson's disease (PD). The prevailing model of basal ganglia function states that two circuits, the direct and indirect pathways, originate from distinct populations of striatal medium spiny neurons (MSNs) and project to different output structures. These circuits are believed to have opposite effects on movement. Specifically, the activity of direct pathway MSNs is postulated to promote movement, whereas the activation of indirect pathway MSNs is hypothesized to inhibit it. Recent findings have revealed that this model might not fully account for the concurrent activation of both pathways during movement. Accordingly, we propose a model in which intrastriatal connections are critical and the two pathways are structurally and functionally intertwined. Thus, all MSNs might either facilitate or inhibit movement depending on the form of synaptic plasticity expressed at a certain moment. In PD, alterations of dopamine-dependent synaptic plasticity could alter this coordinated activity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basal Ganglia / cytology
  • Basal Ganglia / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*