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Advances in Neuroscience
Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 768313, 28 pages
Review Article

How Basal Ganglia Outputs Generate Behavior

Department of Psychology and Neuroscience and Department of Neurobiology, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University, P.O. Box 91050, Durham, NC 27708, USA

Received 10 June 2014; Revised 25 August 2014; Accepted 10 October 2014; Published 18 November 2014

Academic Editor: Xiang-Ping Chu

Copyright © 2014 Henry H. Yin. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The basal ganglia (BG) are a collection of subcortical nuclei critical for voluntary behavior. According to the standard model, the output projections from the BG tonically inhibit downstream motor centers and prevent behavior. A pause in the BG output opens the gate for behavior, allowing the initiation of actions. Hypokinetic neurological symptoms, such as inability to initiate actions in Parkinson’s disease, are explained by excessively high firing rates of the BG output neurons. This model, widely taught in textbooks, is contradicted by recent electrophysiological results, which are reviewed here. In addition, I also introduce a new model, based on the insight that behavior is a product of closed loop negative feedback control using internal reference signals rather than sensorimotor transformations. The nervous system is shown to be a functional hierarchy comprising independent controllers occupying different levels, each level controlling specific variables derived from its perceptual inputs. The BG represent the level of transition control in this hierarchy, sending reference signals specifying the succession of body orientations and configurations. This new model not only explains the major symptoms in movement disorders but also generates a number of testable predictions.