How does Parkinson disease (PD) affect the basal ganglia motor circuit?

Updated: Jan 24, 2019
  • Author: Robert A Hauser, MD, MBA; Chief Editor: Selim R Benbadis, MD  more...
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Answer

The basal ganglia motor circuit modulates the cortical output necessary for normal movement (see the following image).

Schematic representation of the basal ganglia - th Schematic representation of the basal ganglia - thalamocortical motor circuit and its neurotransmitters in the normal state. From Vitek J. Stereotaxic surgery and deep brain stimulation for Parkinson disease and movement disorders. In: Watts RL, Koller WC, eds. Movement Disorders: Neurologic Principles and Practice. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997:240. Copyright, McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. Used with permission.

Signals from the cerebral cortex are processed through the basal ganglia-thalamocortical motor circuit and return to the same area via a feedback pathway. Output from the motor circuit is directed through the internal segment of the globus pallidus (GPi) and the substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNr). This inhibitory output is directed to the thalamocortical pathway and suppresses movement.

Two pathways exist within the basal ganglia circuit, the direct and indirect pathways, as follows:

  • In the direct pathway, outflow from the striatum directly inhibits the GPi and SNr; striatal neurons containing D1 receptors constitute the direct pathway and project to the GPi/SNr

  • The indirect pathway contains inhibitory connections between the striatum and the external segment of the globus pallidus (GPe) and between the GPe and the subthalamic nucleus (STN); striatal neurons with D2 receptors are part of the indirect pathway and project to the GPe

The STN exerts an excitatory influence on the GPi and SNr. The GPi/SNr sends inhibitory output to the ventral lateral nucleus (VL) of the thalamus. Dopamine is released from nigrostriatal (substantia nigra pars compacta [SNpc]) neurons to activate the direct pathway and inhibit the indirect pathway. In Parkinson disease, decreased striatal dopamine causes increased inhibitory output from the GPi/SNr via both the direct and indirect pathways (see the following image).

Schematic representation of the basal ganglia - th Schematic representation of the basal ganglia - thalamocortical motor circuit and the relative change in neuronal activity in Parkinson disease. From Vitek J. Stereotaxic surgery and deep brain stimulation for Parkinson disease and movement disorders. In: Watts RL, Koller WC, eds. Movement Disorders: Neurologic Principles and Practice. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997:241. Used with kind permission. Copyright, McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

The increased inhibition of the thalamocortical pathway suppresses movement. Via the direct pathway, decreased striatal dopamine stimulation causes decreased inhibition of the GPi/SNr. Via the indirect pathway, decreased dopamine inhibition causes increased inhibition of the GPe, resulting in disinhibition of the STN. Increased STN output increases GPi/SNr inhibitory output to the thalamus.


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