The subthalamic nucleus in Parkinson's disease: Somatotopic organization and physiological characteristics

Maria C. Rodriguez-Oroz, Manuel Rodriguez, Jorge Guridi, Klaus Mewes, Vijay Chockkman, Jerrold Vitek, Mahlon R. Delong, Jose A. Obeso

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416 Scopus citations


Single-cell recording of the subthalamic nucleus (STN) was undertaken in 14 patients with Parkinson's disease submitted to surgery. Three hundred and fifty neurones were recorded and assessed for their response to passive and active movements. Thirty-two percent were activated by passive and active movement of the limbs, oromandibular region and abdominal wall. All neurones with sensorimotor responses were in the dorsolateral region of the STN. Arm-related neurones were lateral (≥14 mm plane) to leg-related neurones, which were found more medially (≤12 mm). Representation of the oromandibular musculature was in the middle of the sensorimotor region (∼13 mm plane) and ventral to the arm and leg. Two hundred neurones were adequately isolated for 'off-line' analysis. The mean frequency of discharge was 33 ± 17 Hz (13-117 Hz). Three types of neuronal discharges were distinguished: irregular (60.5%), tonic (24%) and oscillatory (15.5%). They were statistically differentiated on the basis of their mean firing frequency and the coefficient of variation of the interspike interval. Neurones responding to movement were of the irregular or tonic type, and were found in the dorsolateral region of the STN. Neurones with oscillatory and low frequency activity did not respond to movement and were in the ventral one-third of the nucleus. Thirty-eight tremor-related neurones were recorded. The majority (84%) of these were sensitive to movement and were located in the dorsolateral region of the STN. Cross power analysis (n = 16) between the rhythmic neuronal activity and tremor in the limbs showed a peak frequency of 5 Hz (4-8 Hz). Neuronal activity of the subtantia nigra pars reticulata was recorded 0.5-3 mm below the STN. Eighty neurones were recorded 'on-line' and 27 were isolated for 'off-line' analysis. A tonic pattern of discharge characterized by a mean firing rate of 71 ± 28 Hz (35-122 Hz) with a mean coefficient of variation of the interspike interval of 0.85 ± 0.29 ms was found. In only three neurones (11%) was there a response to sensorimotor stimulation. The findings of this study indicate that the somatotopic arrangement and electrophysiological features of the STN in Parkinson's disease patients are similar to those found in monkeys.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1777-1790
Number of pages14
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2001

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Ms Anabel Perez and Charlotte Smith edited the article for publication. This work was partially supported by the National Parkinson Foundation (M.C.R.-O., M.R. and J.A.O.) and the American Parkinson’s Disease Association (M.R.DeL.).


  • Neuronal activity
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Somatotopic organization
  • Subthalamic nucleus
  • Tremor-related neurones


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