Basal ganglia efferents to the brainstem centers controlling postural muscle tone and locomotion: a new concept for understanding motor disorders in basal ganglia dysfunction

K Takakusaki, T Habaguchi, J Ohtinata-Sugimoto, K Saitoh, T Sakamoto
Neuroscience 2003, 119 (1): 293-308
The present study is designed to elucidate how basal ganglia afferents from the substantia nigra pars reticulata (SNr) to the mesopontine tegmental area of the brainstem contribute to gait control and muscle-tone regulation. We used unanesthetized and acutely decerebrated cats (n=27) in which the striatum, thalamus and cerebral cortex were removed but the SNr was preserved. Repetitive stimulation (50 Hz, 10-60 microA, for 5-20 s) applied to a mesencephalic locomotor region (MLR), which corresponded to the cuneiform nucleus, and adjacent areas, evoked locomotor movements. On the other hand, stimulation of a muscle-tone inhibitory region in the pedunculopontine tegmental nucleus (PPN) suppressed postural muscle tone. An injection of either glutamatergic agonists (N-methyl-D-aspartic acid and kainic acid) or GABA antagonists (bicuculline and picrotoxin) into the MLR and PPN also induced locomotion and muscle-tone suppression, respectively. Repetitive electrical stimuli (50-100 Hz, 20-60 microA for 5-20 s) delivered to the SNr alone did not alter muscular activity. However stimulating the lateral part of the SNr attenuated and blocked PPN-induced muscle-tone suppression. Moreover, weaker stimulation of the medial part of the SNr reduced the number of step cycles and disturbed the rhythmic alternation of limb movements of MLR-induced locomotion. The onset of locomotion was delayed as the stimulus intensity was increased. At a higher strength SNr stimulation abolished the locomotion. An injection of bicuculline into either the PPN or the MLR diminished the SNr effects noted above. These results suggest that locomotion and postural muscle tone are subject to modulation by GABAergic nigrotegmental projections which have a partial functional topography: a lateral and medial SNr, for regulation of postural muscle tone and locomotion, respectively. We conclude that disorders of the basal ganglia may include dysfunction of the nigrotegmental (basal ganglia-brainstem) systems, which consequently leads to the production of abnormal muscle tone and gait disturbance.

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