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Opposing basal ganglia processes shape midbrain visuomotor activity bilaterally


The manner in which the nervous system allocates limited motor resources when confronted with conflicting behavioural demands is a crucial issue in understanding how sensory information is transformed into adaptive motor responses. Understanding this selection process is of particular concern in current models of functions of the basal ganglia1. Here we report that the basal ganglia use simultaneous enhancing and suppressing processes synergistically to modulate sensory activity in the superior colliculi, which are bilaterally paired midbrain structures involved in the control of visual orientation behaviours2. These complementary processes presumably ensure accurate gaze shifts mediated by the superior colliculi despite the presence of potential distractors.

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Figure 1: Uncrossed nigrocollicular neurons are inhibited by visual stimuli.
Figure 2: Crossed nigrocollicular neurons are excited by visual stimuli.
Figure 3: Crossed nigrocollicular neurons are, like their uncrossed counterparts, GABA-mediated and terminate on presumptive output neurons.
Figure 4: Electrical activation of crossed nigrocollicular neurons inhibits target neurons in contralateral SC.


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We thank R. Coghill, P. Redgrave and T. Stanford for their critical comments on earlier versions of the manuscript, and N. London for editorial assistance. This work was supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health to J.G.M. H.J. was partly supported by a grant from the National Institutes of Health to B.E.S.

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Correspondence to John G. McHaffie.

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Jiang, H., Stein, B. & McHaffie, J. Opposing basal ganglia processes shape midbrain visuomotor activity bilaterally. Nature 423, 982–986 (2003).

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