Multiple dynamic interactions from basal ganglia direct and indirect pathways mediate action selection

  1. Molecular Neurobiology Laboratory, The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, 10010 North Torrey Pines Road, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA
  2. Center for Motor Control and Disease, Key Laboratory of Brain Functional Genomics, East China Normal University, 3663 North Zhongshan Road, Shanghai 200062, China
  3. NYU–ECNU Institute of Brain and Cognitive Science, New York University Shanghai, 3663 North Zhongshan Road, Shanghai 200062, China


  • Reviewing Editor
    Laura Bradfield
    University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, Australia
  • Senior Editor
    Kate Wassum
    University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, United States of America

Reviewer #1 (Public Review):

The manuscript describes an interesting experiment in which an animal had to judge a duration of an interval and press one of two levers depending on the duration. The Authors recorded activity of neurons in key areas of the basal ganglia (SNr and striatum), and noticed that they can be divided into 4 types.

The data presented in the manuscript is very rich and interesting, however, I am not convinced by the interpretation of these data proposed in the paper. The Authors focus on neurons of types 1 & 2 and propose that their difference encodes the choice the animal makes. However, I would like to offer an alternative interpretation of the data. Looking at the description of task and animal movements seen in Figure 1, it seems to me that there are 4 main "actions" the animals may do in the task: press right lever, press left lever, move left, and move right. It seems to me that the 4 neurons authors observed may correspond to these actions, i.e. Figure 1 shows that Type 1 neurons decrease when right level becomes more likely to be correct, so their decrease may correspond to preparation of pressing right lever - they may be releasing this action from inhibition (analogously Type 2 neurons may be related to pressing left lever). Furthermore, comparing animal movements and timing of activity of neurons of type 3 and 4, it seems to me that type 3 neurons decrease when the animal moves left, while type 4 when the animal moves right.

I suggest Authors analyse if this interpretation is valid, and if so, revise the interpretation in the paper and the model accordingly.

Reviewer #2 (Public Review):

In this valuable manuscript Li & Jin record from the substantial nigra and dorsal striatum to identify subpopulations of neurons with activity that reflects different dynamics during action selection, and then use optogenetics in transgenic mice to selectively inhibit or excite D1- and D2- expressing spiny projection neurons in the striatum, demonstrating a causal role for each in action selection in an opposing manner. They argue that their findings cannot be explained by current models and propose a new 'triple control' model instead, with one direct and two indirect pathways. These findings will be of broad interest to neuroscientists, but lacks some direct evidence for the proposal of the new model.

Overall there are many strengths to this manuscript including the fact that the empirical data in this manuscript is thorough and the experiments are well-designed. The model is well thought through, but I do have some remaining questions and issues with it.

1. The nature of 'action selection' as described in this manuscript is a bit ambiguous and implies a level of cognition or choice which I'm not sure is there. It's not integral to the understanding of the paper really, but I would have liked to know whether the actions are under goal-directed/habitual or even Pavlovian control. This is not really possible to differentiate with this task as there are a number of Pavlovian cues (e.g. lever retraction interval, house light offset) that could be used to guide behavior.
2. In a similar manner, the part of the striatum that is being targeted (e.g. Figures 4E,I, and N) is dorsal, but is central with regards to the mediolateral extent. We know that the function of different striatal compartments is highly heterogeneous with regards to action selection (e.g. PMID: 16045504, 16153716, 11312310) so it would have been nice to have some data showing how specific these findings are to this particular part of dorsal striatum.
3. I'm not sure how I feel about the diagrams in Figure 4S. In particular, the co-activation model is shown with D2-SPNs represented as a + sign (which is described as "having a facilitatory effect to selection" in the caption), but the co-activation model still suggests that D2-SPNs are largely inhibitory - just of competing actions rather than directly inhibiting actions. Moreover, I am not sure about these diagrams because they appear to show that D2-SPNs far outnumbers D1-SPNs and we know that this isn't the case. I realize the diagrams are not proportionate, but it still looks a bit misrepresented to me.
4. There are a number of grammatical and syntax errors that made the manuscript difficult to understand in places.
5. I wondered if the authors had read PMID: 32001651 and 33215609 which propose a quite different interpretation of direct/indirect pathway neurons in striatum in action selection. I wonder if the authors considered how their findings might fit within this framework.
6. There is no direct evidence of two indirect pathways, although perhaps this is beyond the scope of the current manuscript and is a prediction for future studies to test.

  1. Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  2. Wellcome Trust
  3. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
  4. Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation