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Reviews in the Neurosciences

Editor-in-Chief: Huston, Joseph P.

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Volume 23, Issue 5-6


The role of the basal ganglia in motivated behavior

Claudio Da Cunha / Alexander Gomez-A / Charles D. Blaha
Published Online: 2012-10-18 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/revneuro-2012-0063


The present paper reviews foundational and contemporary theories of motivated behaviors and the growing body of evidence that they require specific functional interactions within the basal ganglia. Such evidence suggests that unconditioned responses (UR), conditioned responses (CR), goal-directed actions and stimulus-response (S-R) habits are selected in the basal ganglia. Such selection depends on activation of striatal neurons by cortical and subcortical neurons encoding unconditioned stimuli (US), conditioned stimuli (CS), goals and neutral stimuli (S). These neurons project respectively to the medial nucleus accumbens (NAc) shell/olfactory tubercle, NAc core/lateral olfactory tubercle, dorsolateral striatum and dorsomedial striatum. The strength of these synapses is altered when the levels of extracellular dopamine in the basal ganglia undergo phasic increases or decreases, which signal outcomes that are, respectively, better or worse than expected. In addition, dopamine release in response to salient USs and to CSs with incentive salience increases the signal-to-noise ratio of corticostriatal neurotransmission, thus ‘energizing’ the performance of selected actions. Different actions can be selected in the striatum because the striatal neurons of the so-called direct and indirect pathways can respectively initiate and end actions through pallidum/nigral-thalamic projections to premotor and motor areas of the cortex. According to this view, the basal ganglia is thought to play a role in the action-selection processes needed for the expression of both declarative and procedural memories, but the memories of the contexts, predictive stimuli or neutral stimuli associated with free rewards or with an action’s outcomes are stored elsewhere.

Keywords: action-selection; basal ganglia; decision-making; dopamine; motivated behavior; motivation

About the article

Claudio Da Cunha

Claudio Da Cunha, has aimed in his research to understand how the brain learns to select and initiate proper actions based on environmental cues (habits), outcome predictions (goal-directed actions), primary motives (unconditioned responses) or secondary motives (Pavlovian conditioned responses). In his lab they use in vivo electrochemical and microdialysis techniques combined with lesion and pharmacology behavioral studies in freely moving rats to test the hypothesis that action-selection depends on the functioning of the cortico-basal ganglia circuitry and its modulation by midbrain dopaminergic neurons. Such a hypothesis has strong implications for normal learning of procedural memories and abnormal learning and/or action selection processes that contribute to symptoms of Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease, schizophrenia, drug abuse and other neuropsychiatric disorders.

Alexander Gomez-A

Gonzalo Alexander Gomez Acosta, is currently working on his PhD thesis in Professor Da Cunha’s lab. In his current work he is using in vivo electrochemical recording techniques to test how the release of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens during the presentation of a pair of conditioned and unconditioned stimuli is correlated with the prediction error related to the magnitude, duration, and probability of an appetitive or an aversive stimulus that are presented following presentation of a conditioned stimulus.

Charles D. Blaha

Charles D. Blaha, is interested in a systems neuroscience approach to understanding the neurobiological bases of incentive-motivated behaviors, neuropsychiatric disorders and autism spectrum disorders using state of the art in vivo electrochemical recording techniques. His program of research has involved elucidating receptor mechanisms and neuronal circuitry in the cerebellum, hindbrain and midbrain that are important targets for therapeutic drugs and for mediating the actions of the neurotransmitters acetylcholine, glutamate and several neuropeptides that critically control forebrain dopaminergic neurotransmission. His research also involves the development of new neurochemical recording procedures to improve the therapeutic success of deep brain stimulation in individuals suffering neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s disease.

Corresponding author: Claudio Da Cunha, Department of Pharmacology, UFPR, 81.531–980 Curitiba PR, Brazil

Received: 2012-06-09

Accepted: 2012-08-07

Published Online: 2012-10-18

Published in Print: 2012-11-01

Citation Information: , Volume 23, Issue 5-6, Pages 747–767, ISSN (Online) 2191-0200, ISSN (Print) 0334-1763, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/revneuro-2012-0063.

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©2012 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston. Copyright Clearance Center

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