The basal ganglia have been shown to contribute to habit and stimulus-response (S-R) learning. These forms of learning have the property of slow acquisition and, in humans, can occur without conscious awareness. This paper proposes that one aspect of basal ganglia-based learning is the recoding of cortically derived information within the striatum. Modular corticostriatal projection patterns, demonstrated experimentally, are viewed as producing recoded templates suitable for the gradual selection of new input-output relations in cortico-basal ganglia loops. Recordings from striatal projection neurons and interneurons show that activity patterns in the striatum are modified gradually during the course of S-R learning. It is proposed that this recoding within the striatum can chunk the representations of motor and cognitive action sequences so that they can be implemented as performance units. This scheme generalizes Miller's notion of information chunking to action control. The formation and the efficient implementation of action chunks are viewed as being based on predictive signals. It is suggested that information chunking provides a mechanism for the acquisition and the expression of action repertoires that, without such information compression would be biologically unwieldy or difficult to implement. The learning and memory functions of the basal ganglia are thus seen as core features of the basal ganglia's influence on motor and cognitive pattern generators.
Copyright 1998 Academic Press.