New publication: Experimental investigation into the role of the subthalamic nucleus (STN) in motor control using optogenetics in mice

Authors: Adriane Guillaumina, Gian Pietro Serra, François Georges, Åsa Wallén-Mackenzie

illustration of experimentation

The subthalamic nucleus (STN) is critical for the execution of intended movements. Loss of its normal function is strongly associated with several movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease for which the STN is an important target area in deep brain stimulation (DBS) therapy. Classical basal ganglia models postulate that two parallel pathways, the direct and indirect pathways, exert opposing control over movement, with the STN acting within the indirect pathway. The STN is regulated by both inhibitory and excitatory input, and is itself excitatory. While most functional knowledge of this clinically relevant brain structure has been gained from pathological conditions and models, primarily parkinsonian, experimental evidence for its role in normal motor control has remained more sparse. The objective here was to tease out the selective impact of the STN on several motor parameters required to achieve intended movement, including locomotion, balance and motor coordination. Optogenetic excitation and inhibition using both bilateral and unilateral stimulations of the STN were implemented in freely-moving mice. The results demonstrate that selective optogenetic inhibition of the STN enhances locomotion while its excitation reduces locomotion. These findings lend experimental support to basal ganglia models of the STN in terms of locomotion. In addition, optogenetic excitation in freely-exploring mice induced self-grooming, disturbed gait and a jumping/escaping behavior, while causing reduced motor coordination in advanced motor tasks, independent of grooming and jumping. This study contributes experimentally validated evidence for a regulatory role of the STN in several aspects of motor control.

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