Biological Cybernetics

, Volume 103, Issue 3, pp 237–253

What do the basal ganglia do? A modeling perspective


DOI: 10.1007/s00422-010-0401-y

Cite this article as:
Chakravarthy, V.S., Joseph, D. & Bapi, R.S. Biol Cybern (2010) 103: 237. doi:10.1007/s00422-010-0401-y


Basal ganglia (BG) constitute a network of seven deep brain nuclei involved in a variety of crucial brain functions including: action selection, action gating, reward based learning, motor preparation, timing, etc. In spite of the immense amount of data available today, researchers continue to wonder how a single deep brain circuit performs such a bewildering range of functions. Computational models of BG have focused on individual functions and fail to give an integrative picture of BG function. A major breakthrough in our understanding of BG function is perhaps the insight that activities of mesencephalic dopaminergic cells represent some form of ‘reward’ to the organism. This insight enabled application of tools from ‘reinforcement learning,’ a branch of machine learning, in the study of BG function. Nevertheless, in spite of these bright spots, we are far from the goal of arriving at a comprehensive understanding of these ‘mysterious nuclei.’ A comprehensive knowledge of BG function has the potential to radically alter treatment and management of a variety of BG-related neurological disorders (Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s chorea, etc.) and neuropsychiatric disorders (schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, etc.) also. In this article, we review the existing modeling literature on BG and hypothesize an integrative picture of the function of these nuclei.


Basal ganglia Dopamine Reinforcement learning Actor critic models Action selection Exploration 

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • V. S. Chakravarthy
    • 1
  • Denny Joseph
    • 1
  • Raju S. Bapi
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of BiotechnologyIndian Institute of Technology, MadrasChennaiIndia
  2. 2.Department of Computer and Information Sciences and Center for Cognitive SciencesUnviersity of HyderabadHyderabadIndia

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