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Operant Analysis of Fronto-striatal Function in Rodents.


In: Buccafusco JJ, editor.


Methods of Behavior Analysis in Neuroscience. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press; 2009. Chapter 11.
Frontiers in Neuroscience.


The basal ganglia were once believed to function as part of an “extrapyramidal” motor system, operating separately from the pyramidal tract [1,2]. However, this concept has been discarded for two fundamental reasons. First, the basal ganglia have been shown to be an intrinsic part of well-defined anatomical circuits that not only receive cortical input but also send projections, via the thalamus, back to those cortical areas that control motor output. Second, a wealth of experimental work has shown that the striatum, the main input structure for the basal ganglia, can no longer be regarded purely as a “motor” structure. The observation that striatal damage could induce deficits in cognitive function led researchers such as H. Enger Rosvold and Ivan Divac to state that the striatum may reflect the function of those areas of neocortex that project to it [3]. These pioneers investigating striatal function laid the foundation for the “functional loop” concept that proposes multiple, topographically arranged basal ganglia circuits that serve as substrates for motor, oculomotor, prefrontal, and limbic functions [4]. The theory that the striatum may mediate a wide variety of functions reflecting its diverse cortical innervation has become evident in studies of patients with basal ganglia disorders. Thus, impairments in cognitive function are now well documented in patients with neurodegenerative diseases such as Huntington’s disease (HD) or Parkinson’s disease (PD), disorders which were once regarded as entirely “movement” related. Attempts to examine disease states such as HD in experimental animals can provide both insight into normal brain function and a means by which to assess potential therapeutic strategies. In either scenario, an operant analysis of behavior can prove particularly powerful. The detailed functional analyses that are permitted by operant paradigms not only allow more specific questions to be asked of normal brain function, but can also provide experimental paradigms that are extremely sensitive to brain insults and subsequent recovery.

Copyright © 2009, Taylor & Francis Group, LLC

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