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Basal Ganglia: Definition & Function

Basal Ganglia: Definition & Function
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Gretchen Baumle
In this lesson, we'll look at the basal ganglia, which is a cluster of brain cells at the base of the brain that helps humans perform practiced movements. After learning its functions, you'll be able to test your knowledge with a quiz.

Definition of the Basil Ganglia

The basal ganglia, also known as basal nuclei, is a region on the underside of the brain that plays a very important role in muscle coordination and movement. Ganglia refers to a cluster of neurons, or brain cells, outside of the brain or spinal cord, while the term nuclei refers to clusters within those regions. However, most people still use the term basal ganglia out of familiarity. The basal ganglia communicates with other regions of the brain to allow us to do tasks like driving a car. It's responsible for executing a skill pattern (something you've had to learn) that you can do with very little thought. Things like riding a bike, tying your shoe, or playing a musical instrument would be classified in this category. The basal ganglia even plays a large role in eye movements, allowing someone to direct their gaze to a target and then change their gaze from one target to another.

Function of the Basal Ganglia

Because the basal ganglia is involved in so many everyday actions, it can be distressing when it starts to break down. For example, a person with Parkinson's disease, which can result from a malfunctioning basal ganglia, exhibits jerky, uncontrollable movements and often has difficulty performing simple tasks like typing or opening a jar. This is because the basal ganglia is failing at its job of executing a movement decided upon by the individual. Even if the movement is initiated, it can be abnormally slow.

Like most regions of the brain, the basal ganglia could not function on its lonesome. Rather, it receives a message from a huge part of the brain called the cerebral cortex. This is the area that contains many essential functions. Personality, intelligence, reason, and judgment are all linked to the cerebral cortex. It's also where a thought might pop into your head, as in, 'Ooh, I really like those shoes! I think I'll try them on!'

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