The basal ganglia and the cerebellum: nodes in an integrated network

Nat Rev Neurosci. 2018 Jun;19(6):338-350. doi: 10.1038/s41583-018-0002-7.


The basal ganglia and the cerebellum are considered to be distinct subcortical systems that perform unique functional operations. The outputs of the basal ganglia and the cerebellum influence many of the same cortical areas but do so by projecting to distinct thalamic nuclei. As a consequence, the two subcortical systems were thought to be independent and to communicate only at the level of the cerebral cortex. Here, we review recent data showing that the basal ganglia and the cerebellum are interconnected at the subcortical level. The subthalamic nucleus in the basal ganglia is the source of a dense disynaptic projection to the cerebellar cortex. Similarly, the dentate nucleus in the cerebellum is the source of a dense disynaptic projection to the striatum. These observations lead to a new functional perspective that the basal ganglia, the cerebellum and the cerebral cortex form an integrated network. This network is topographically organized so that the motor, cognitive and affective territories of each node in the network are interconnected. This perspective explains how synaptic modifications or abnormal activity at one node can have network-wide effects. A future challenge is to define how the unique learning mechanisms at each network node interact to improve performance.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basal Ganglia / anatomy & histology
  • Basal Ganglia / physiology*
  • Cerebellum / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebellum / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Motivation
  • Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Reward
  • Subthalamic Nucleus / anatomy & histology
  • Subthalamic Nucleus / physiology
  • Thalamus / anatomy & histology
  • Thalamus / physiology