• basal ganglia;
  • dopamine;
  • reaction time;
  • subthalamic nucleus


The akinesia resulting from Parkinson's disease or striatal dopamine depletion in experimental animals can be ameliorated or reversed by inactivation of the subthalamic nucleus. This inactivation might be effective by restoring balance to the basal ganglia motor circuits. Alternatively, new movement-related deficits might be introduced which mask the original impairments (e.g. hyperkinesia might replace hypokinesia). In the present study, striatal dopamine depletion was effected unilaterally, in order to dissociate generalized effects, e.g. hyperkinesia, from response-specific initiation effects. Rats were trained in a lateralized visual reaction time task and then assigned to one of four groups: striatal dopamine depletion; cell body lesion of the subthalamic nucleus; combined striatal dopamine depletion and subthalamic nucleus lesion; or control.

As expected, rats with striatal dopamine depletion exhibited slower reaction time and a bias to respond to the ipsilateral side. The subthalamic nucleus lesion resulted in no reaction time change (in particular, there was no evidence of faster reaction times), but there was an increase in anticipatory responding. The group with the combined striatal dopamine depletion and subthalamic nucleus lesion had no reaction time impairment. This group showed an increase in anticipatory errors and a contralateral response bias. These data demonstrate that lesions of the subthalamic nucleus do not merely cancel the akinesia which follows striatal dopamine depletion by the addition of a hyperkinetic impairment. Rather, there appears to be a change in the balance of the motor system.