Implementation of action sequences by a neostriatal site: A lesion mapping study of grooming syntax

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The neostriatum and its connections control the sequential organization of action ('action syntax') as well as simpler aspects of movement. This study focused on sequential organization of rodent grooming. Grooming syntax provides an opportunity to study how neural systems coordinate natural patterns of serial order. The most stereotyped of these grooming patterns, a 'syntactic chain,' has a particularly stereotyped order that recurs thousands of times more often than could occur by chance. The purpose of the present study was to identify the crucial site within the striatopallidal system where lesions disrupt the syntax or serial order of syntactic grooming chains without disrupting constituent movements. Small excitotoxin lesions were made using quinolinic acid at bilateral sites within the dorsolateral, dorsomedial, ventrolateral, or ventromedial neostriatum, or in the ventral pallidum or globus pallidus of rats. An objective technique for mapping functional lesions was used to quantify cell death and to map precisely those lesions that disrupted grooming syntax. Our results identified a single site within the anterior dorsolateral neostriatum, slightly more than a cubic millimeter in size (1.3 x 1.0 x 1.0 mm), as crucial to grooming syntax. Damage to this site did not disrupt the ability to emit grooming actions. By contrast, damage to sites in the ventral pallidum and globus pallidus impaired grooming actions but left the sequential organization of grooming syntax intact. Neural circuits within this crucial 'action syntax site' seem to implement sequential patterns of behavior as a specific function.




Cromwell, H. C., & Berridge, K. C. (1996). Implementation of action sequences by a neostriatal site: A lesion mapping study of grooming syntax. Journal of Neuroscience, 16(10), 3444–3458.

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