Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Biomedical Engineering

First Advisor

Paul A. Wetzel, PhD

Second Advisor

Mark S. Baron, MD

Third Advisor

Kathryn L. Holloway, MD

Fourth Advisor

Ding-Yu Fei, PhD

Fifth Advisor

Dianne T.V. Pawluk, PhD


The basal ganglia (BG) is a complex set of heavily interconnected nuclei located in the central part of the brain that receives inputs from the several areas of the cortex and projects via the thalamus back to the prefrontal and motor cortical areas. Despite playing a significant part in multiple brain functions, the physiology of the BG and associated disorders like dystonia remain poorly understood. Dystonia is a devastating condition characterized by ineffective, twisting movements, prolonged co-contractions and contorted postures. Evidences suggest that it occurs due to abnormal discharge patterning in BG-thalamocortocal (BGTC) circuitry. The central purpose of this study was to understand the electrophysiology of BGTC circuitry and its role in motor control and dystonia.

Toward this goal, an advanced multi-target multi-unit recording and analysis system was utilized, which allows simultaneous collection and analysis of multiple neuronal units from multiple brain nuclei. Over the cause of this work, neuronal data from the globus pallidus (GP), subthalamic nucleus (STN), entopenduncular nucleus (EP), pallidal receiving thalamus (VL) and motor cortex (MC) was collected from normal, lesioned and dystonic rats under awake, head restrained conditions. The results have shown that the neuronal population in BG nuclei (GP, STN and EP) were characterized by a dichotomy of firing patterns in normal rats which remains preserved in dystonic rats. Unlike normals, neurons in dystonic rat exhibit reduced mean firing rate, increased irregularity and burstiness at resting state. The chaotic changes that occurs in BG leads to inadequate hyperpolarization levels within the VL thalamic neurons resulting in a shift from the normal bursting mode to an abnormal tonic firing pattern.

During movement, the dystonic EP generates abnormally synchronized and elongated burst duration which further corrupts the VL motor signals. It was finally concluded that the loss of specificity and temporal misalignment between motor neurons leads to corrupted signaling to the muscles resulting in dystonic behavior. Furthermore, this study reveals the importance of EP output in controlling firing modes occurring in the VL thalamus.


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