Structural and functional evolution of the basal ganglia in vertebrates

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 1998 Dec;28(3):235-85. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0173(98)00016-2.


While a basal ganglia with striatal and pallidal subdivisions is 1 clearly present in many extant anamniote species, this basal ganglia is cell sparse and receives only a relatively modest tegmental dopaminergic input and little if any cortical input. The major basal ganglia influence on motor functions in anamniotes appears to be exerted via output circuits to the tectum. In contrast, in modern mammals, birds, and reptiles (i.e., modern amniotes), the striatal and pallidal parts of the basal ganglia are very neuron-rich, both consist of the same basic populations of neurons in all amniotes, and the striatum receives abundant tegmental dopaminergic and cortical input. The functional circuitry of the basal ganglia also seems very similar in all amniotes, since the major basal ganglia influences on motor functions appear to be exerted via output circuits to both cerebral cortex and tectum in sauropsids (i.e., birds and reptiles) and mammals. The basal ganglia, output circuits to the cortex, however, appear to be considerably more developed in mammals than in birds and reptiles. The basal ganglia, thus, appears to have undergone a major elaboration during the evolutionary transition from amphibians to reptiles. This elaboration may have enabled amniotes to learn and/or execute a more sophisticated repertoire of behaviors and movements, and this ability may have been an important element of the successful adaptation of amniotes to a fully terrestrial habitat. The mammalian lineage appears, however, to have diverged somewhat from the sauropsid lineage with respect to the emergence of the cerebral cortex as the major target of the basal ganglia circuitry devoted to executing the basal ganglia-mediated control of movement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basal Ganglia / anatomy & histology*
  • Basal Ganglia / physiology*
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Humans
  • Vertebrates / anatomy & histology*
  • Vertebrates / physiology*