Basal Ganglia - Function


Information about the functions of the basal ganglia comes from anatomical studies, from physiological studies carried out mainly in rats and monkeys, and from the study of diseases that damage them.

The greatest source of insight into the functions of the basal ganglia has come from the study of two neurological disorders, Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease. For both of these disorders, the nature of the neural damage is well understood and can be correlated with the resulting symptoms. Parkinson's disease involves major loss of dopaminergic cells in the substantia nigra; Huntington's disease involves massive loss of medium spiny neurons in the striatum. The symptoms of the two diseases are virtually opposite: Parkinson's disease is characterized by gradual loss of the ability to initiate movement, whereas Huntington's disease is characterized by an inability to prevent parts of the body from moving unintentionally. It is noteworthy that, although both diseases have cognitive symptoms, especially in their advanced stages, the most salient symptoms relate to the ability to initiate and control movement. Thus, both are classified primarily as movement disorders. A different movement disorder, called hemiballismus, may result from damage restricted to the subthalamic nucleus. Hemiballismus is characterized by violent and uncontrollable flinging movements of the arms and legs.

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