The basal ganglia of the laboratory rat consist of a few core regions that are specifically interconnected by efferents and afferents of the central nervous system. In nearly 800 reports of tract-tracing investigations the connectivity of the basal ganglia is documented. The readout of connectivity data and the collation of all the connections of these reports in a database allows to generate a connectome. The collation, curation and analysis of such a huge amount of connectivity data is a great challenge and has not been performed before (Bohland et al. PloS One 4:e7200, 2009) in large connectomics projects based on meta-analysis of tract-tracing studies. Here, the basal ganglia connectome of the rat has been generated and analyzed using the consistent cross-platform and generic framework neuroVIISAS. Several advances of this connectome meta-study have been made: the collation of laterality data, the network-analysis of connectivity strengths and the assignment of regions to a hierarchically organized terminology. The basal ganglia connectome offers differences in contralateral connectivity of motoric regions in contrast to other regions. A modularity analysis of the weighted and directed connectome produced a specific grouping of regions. This result indicates a correlation of structural and functional subsystems. As a new finding, significant reciprocal connections of specific network motifs in this connectome were detected. All three principal basal ganglia pathways (direct, indirect, hyperdirect) could be determined in the connectome. By identifying these pathways it was found that there exist many further equivalent pathways possessing the same length and mean connectivity weight as the principal pathways. Based on the connectome data it is unknown why an excitation pattern may prefer principal rather than other equivalent pathways. In addition to these new findings the local graph-theoretical features of regions of the connectome have been determined. By performing graph theoretical analyses it turns out that beside the caudate putamen further regions like the mesencephalic reticular formation, amygdaloid complex and ventral tegmental area are important nodes in the basal ganglia connectome. The connectome data of this meta-study of tract-tracing reports of the basal ganglia are available for further network studies, the integration into neocortical connectomes and further extensive investigations of the basal ganglia dynamics in population simulations.
Keywords: Basal ganglia; Caudate putamen; Connectome; Connectomics; Digital atlasing; Graph analysis; Multiscale; Network analysis; Neuroontology; Striatum; Substantia nigra; Tract tracing.