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J Neurophysiol. 2017 Sep 1;118(3):1472-1487. doi: 10.1152/jn.00964.2016. Epub 2017 Jun 7.

Dynamics of human subthalamic neuron phase-locking to motor and sensory cortical oscillations during movement.

Author information

Brain Modulation Laboratory, Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and.
Department of Neurobiology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Brain Modulation Laboratory, Department of Neurological Surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania;


Coupled oscillatory activity recorded between sensorimotor regions of the basal ganglia-thalamocortical loop is thought to reflect information transfer relevant to movement. A neuronal firing-rate model of basal ganglia-thalamocortical circuitry, however, has dominated thinking about basal ganglia function for the past three decades, without knowledge of the relationship between basal ganglia single neuron firing and cortical population activity during movement itself. We recorded activity from 34 subthalamic nucleus (STN) neurons, simultaneously with cortical local field potentials and motor output, in 11 subjects with Parkinson's disease (PD) undergoing awake deep brain stimulator lead placement. STN firing demonstrated phase synchronization to both low- and high-beta-frequency cortical oscillations, and to the amplitude envelope of gamma oscillations, in motor cortex. We found that during movement, the magnitude of this synchronization was dynamically modulated in a phase-frequency-specific manner. Importantly, we found that phase synchronization was not correlated with changes in neuronal firing rate. Furthermore, we found that these relationships were not exclusive to motor cortex, because STN firing also demonstrated phase synchronization to both premotor and sensory cortex. The data indicate that models of basal ganglia function ultimately will need to account for the activity of populations of STN neurons that are bound in distinct functional networks with both motor and sensory cortices and code for movement parameters independent of changes in firing rate.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Current models of basal ganglia-thalamocortical networks do not adequately explain simple motor functions, let alone dysfunction in movement disorders. Our findings provide data that inform models of human basal ganglia function by demonstrating how movement is encoded by networks of subthalamic nucleus (STN) neurons via dynamic phase synchronization with cortex. The data also demonstrate, for the first time in humans, a mechanism through which the premotor and sensory cortices are functionally connected to the STN.


Parkinson’s disease; basal ganglia; beta oscillations; deep brain stimulation; motor cortex; spike phase-locking; subthalamic nucleus

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