Parallel basal ganglia circuits for voluntary and automatic behaviour to reach rewards

Brain. 2015 Jul;138(Pt 7):1776-800. doi: 10.1093/brain/awv134. Epub 2015 May 16.


The basal ganglia control body movements, value processing and decision-making. Many studies have shown that the inputs and outputs of each basal ganglia structure are topographically organized, which suggests that the basal ganglia consist of separate circuits that serve distinct functions. A notable example is the circuits that originate from the rostral (head) and caudal (tail) regions of the caudate nucleus, both of which target the superior colliculus. These two caudate regions encode the reward values of visual objects differently: flexible (short-term) values by the caudate head and stable (long-term) values by the caudate tail. These value signals in the caudate guide the orienting of gaze differently: voluntary saccades by the caudate head circuit and automatic saccades by the caudate tail circuit. Moreover, separate groups of dopamine neurons innervate the caudate head and tail and may selectively guide the flexible and stable learning/memory in the caudate regions. Studies focusing on manual handling of objects also suggest that rostrocaudally separated circuits in the basal ganglia control the action differently. These results suggest that the basal ganglia contain parallel circuits for two steps of goal-directed behaviour: finding valuable objects and manipulating the valuable objects. These parallel circuits may underlie voluntary behaviour and automatic skills, enabling animals (including humans) to adapt to both volatile and stable environments. This understanding of the functions and mechanisms of the basal ganglia parallel circuits may inform the differential diagnosis and treatment of basal ganglia disorders.

Keywords: automatic behaviour; basal ganglia; parallel circuit; reward value; voluntary behaviour.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basal Ganglia / physiology*
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Reward*