The basal ganglia: focused selection and inhibition of competing motor programs

Prog Neurobiol. 1996 Nov;50(4):381-425. doi: 10.1016/s0301-0082(96)00042-1.


The basal ganglia comprise several nuclei in the forebrain, diencephalon, and midbrain thought to play a significant role in the control of posture and movement. It is well recognized that people with degenerative diseases of the basal ganglia suffer from rigidly held abnormal body postures, slowing of movement, involuntary movements, or a combination of these a abnormalities. However, it has not been agreed just what the basal ganglia contribute to normal movement. Recent advances in knowledge of the basal ganglia circuitry, activity of basal ganglia neurons during movement, and the effect of basal ganglia lesions have led to a new hypothesis of basal ganglia function. The hypothesis states that the basal ganglia do not generate movements. Instead, when voluntary movement is generated by cerebral cortical and cerebellar mechanisms, the basal ganglia act broadly to inhibit competing motor mechanisms that would otherwise interfere with the desired movement. Simultaneously, inhibition is removed focally from the desired motor mechanisms to allow that movement to proceed. Inability to inhibit competing motor programs results in slow movements, abnormal postures and involuntary muscle activity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basal Ganglia / cytology
  • Basal Ganglia / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology*