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Nat Neurosci. 2012 Feb 12;15(4):620-7. doi: 10.1038/nn.3047.

A cortical motor nucleus drives the basal ganglia-recipient thalamus in singing birds.

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McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.


The pallido-recipient thalamus transmits information from the basal ganglia to the cortex and is critical for motor initiation and learning. Thalamic activity is strongly inhibited by pallidal inputs from the basal ganglia, but the role of nonpallidal inputs, such as excitatory inputs from cortex, remains unclear. We simultaneously recorded from presynaptic pallidal axon terminals and postsynaptic thalamocortical neurons in a basal ganglia-recipient thalamic nucleus that is necessary for vocal variability and learning in zebra finches. We found that song-locked rate modulations in the thalamus could not be explained by pallidal inputs alone and persisted following pallidal lesion. Instead, thalamic activity was likely driven by inputs from a motor cortical nucleus that is also necessary for singing. These findings suggest a role for cortical inputs to the pallido-recipient thalamus in driving premotor signals that are important for exploratory behavior and learning.

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