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Basal ganglia neural mechanisms of natural movement sequences.


Natural rodent grooming and other instinctive behavior serves as a natural model of complex movement sequences. Rodent grooming has syntactic (rule-driven) sequences and more random movement patterns. Both incorporate the same movements--only the serial structure differs. Recordings of neural activity in the dorsolateral striatum and the substantia nigra pars reticulata indicate preferential activation during syntactic sequences over more random sequences. Neurons that are responsive during syntactic grooming sequences are often unresponsive or have reverse activation profiles during kinematically similar movements that occur in flexible or random grooming sequences. Few neurons could be categorized as strictly movement related--instead they were activated only in the context of particular sequential patterns of movements. Particular sequential patterns included "syntactic chain" grooming sequences of paw, head, and body movements and also "warm-up" sequences, which consist of head and body/limb movements that precede locomotion after a period of quiet resting (Golani 1992). Activation during warm-up was less intense and less frequent than during grooming sequences, but both sequences activated neurons above baseline levels, and the same neurons sometimes responded to both sequences. The fact that striatal neurons code 2 natural sequences which are made up of different constituent movements suggests that the basal ganglia may have a generalized role in sequence control. The basal ganglia are modulated by the context of the sequence and may play an executive function in the complex natural patterns of sequenced behaviour.