Cortico-basal ganglia pathways are essential for the recall of well-established visuomotor associations.
Nixon PD., McDonald KR., Gough PM., Alexander IH., Passingham RE.
Recent human neuroimaging studies, supported by lesion studies with nonhuman primates, have suggested that learning arbitrary associations between sensory cues and behavioural responses requires interactions between the infero-temporal, prefrontal and premotor cortices. We directly tested the hypothesis suggested from our neuroimaging experiments that functional links between the basal ganglia and premotor cortex are involved in the process via which task performance becomes automatic. We made unilateral excitotoxic lesions, centred on the internal pallidum, in four macaques previously given extensive experience on the associations between nonspatial visual cues and movements of a joystick. The basal ganglia lesion was later combined with a premotor cortical lesion in the opposite hemisphere so as to interrupt the connections between them. Three of the animals were subsequently found to be impaired in relearning pre-operatively acquired associations; they eventually succeeded but made three-times as many errors. A fourth animal was unimpaired but its premotor cortex lesion was later found to be incomplete. Response times were only marginally increased and the learning of novel associations appeared relatively unaffected by these lesions. As a control, the effects of a unilateral premotor cortex lesion were assessed with two additional animals but this lesion did not result in a relearning impairment. We therefore suggest that when visuomotor associations have become well established through over-training, performance depends on connections between the basal ganglia and premotor cortex.