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Acta Neurobiol Exp (Wars). 2010;70(1):95-105.

Why do we have a caudate nucleus?

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Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, Department of Neurobiology, UCLA Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center, Brain Research Institute, The David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA.


In order to understand the physiological role of the caudate nucleus, we combine here our laboratory data on cats with reports of patients with selective damage to this nucleus. Cats with bilateral removal of the caudate nuclei showed a stereotyped behavior consisting of persistently approaching and then following a person, another cat, or any object, and attempting to contact the target. Simultaneously, the animals exhibited a friendly disposition and persistent docility together with purring and forelimbs treading/kneading. The magnitude and duration of this behavior was proportional to the extent of the removal reaching a maximum after ablations of 65% or more of the caudate tissue. These cats were hyperactive but they had lost the feline elegance of movements. Additional features of acaudate cats were: (1) postural and accuracy deficits (plus perseveration) in paw usage tasks including bar pressing for food reward; (2) cognitive and perceptual impairments on a T-maze battery of tasks and on the bar pressing tasks; (3) blockage or blunting of the species-specific behavioral response to a single injection of morphine; Unilateral caudate nucleus removal did not produce global behavioral effects, but only deficit in the contralateral paw contact placing reaction and paw usage/bar pressing. Moreover and surprisingly, we found hypertrophy of the ipsilateral caudate nucleus following prenatal focal neocortical removal. The findings in human were also behavioral (not neurological) and also occurred with unilateral caudate damage. The main manifestations consisted of loss of drive (apathy), obsessive-compulsive behavior, cognitive deficits, stimulus-bound perseverative behavior, and hyperactivity. Based on all of the above data we propose that the specific function of the caudate nucleus is to control approach-attachment behavior, ranging from plain approach to a target, to romantic love. This putative function would account well for the caudate involvement in the pathophysiology of a number of clinical syndromes that we mention, all of which compromise approach-attachment- affect behaviors. In addition we conclude that the caudate nucleus contributes importantly to body and limbs posture as well as to the accuracy and speed of directed movements.

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