The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience

Reduced reach-related modulation of motor thalamus neural activity in a rat model of Parkinson's disease.

PMID 25429126


Motor thalamus (Mthal) is a key node in the corticobasal ganglia (BG) loop that controls complex, cognitive aspects of movement. In Parkinson's disease (PD), profound alterations in neuronal activity occur in BG nuclei and cortex. Because Mthal is located between these two structures, altered Mthal activity has been assumed to underlie the pathogenesis of PD motor deficits. However, to date, inconsistent changes in neuronal firing rate and pattern have been reported in parkinsonian animals. Moreover, although a distinct firing pattern of Mthal neurons, called low-threshold calcium spike bursts (LTS bursts), is observed in reduced preparations, it remains unknown whether they occur or what their role might be in behaving animals. We recorded Mthal spiking activity in control and unilateral 6-hydroxydopamine lesioned rats performing a skilled forelimb-reaching task. We show for the first time that Mthal firing rate in control rats is modulated in a temporally precise pattern during reach-to-grasp movements, with a peak at the time of the reach-end and troughs just before and after it. We identified LTS-like events on the basis of LTS burst characteristics. These were rare, but also modulated, decreasing in incidence just after reach-end. The inhibitory modulations in firing rate and LTS-like events were abolished in parkinsonian rats. These data confirm that nigrostriatal dopamine depletion is accompanied by profound and specific deficits in movement-related Mthal activity. These changes would severely impair Mthal contributions to motor program development in motor cortex and are likely to be an important factor underlying the movement deficits of PD.