Caudate nucleus: characteristics, functions and disorders

When we think of the brain, we usually imagine the superficial and outermost layer, the cerebral cortex. However, under it we can find a large number of structures of fundamental importance for human survival, all participating in different types of functions such as the integration of information.

One of these subcortical structures is the caudate nucleus, the features we will see below.

    What is the caudate nucleus?

    The caudate nucleus is a subcortical structure, i.e. located inside the brain, which is part of the basal ganglia. Together with the putamen and nucleus accumbens, it forms what is known as the corpus striatum, an element closely related to the control of movement.

    Located above the thalamus and below the orbitofrontal cortex to later curve towards the occipital lobe, the caudate nucleus connects to both the rest of the basal ganglia and the frontal cortex and limbic system. We have two units of this nucleus, each located in a cerebral hemisphere. At the neurotransmitter level, the caudate nucleus is mainly influenced by dopamine and GABA.

    The caudate nucleus is usually divided into three parts, Head, body and tail. While the former is one of the thicker parts and is more in contact with the frontal cortex, the tail is connected to the limbic system. The head and body are in close contact with the lateral ventricles.

      Main functions of the caudate nucleus

      The caudate nucleus and all the basal ganglia are of great importance in the human nervous system, participating in essential functions to ensure both a good adaptation to the environment and its own survival by allowing the regulation of behavior through aspects such as memory and motivation. In addition, they have also been largely linked to the perform and coordinate movements.

      Below you can find in detail some of the functions that have been assigned to the caudate nucleus.

      Motion control

      Along with the rest of the basal ganglia, it has traditionally been considered that the caudate nucleus has a high participation in motor control and coordination. Maintaining the position of the limbs and the precision of fine movements are some of the aspects in which the caudate participates. This is seen in the consequences of their dysfunction, in disorders such as Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease.

      Memory and learning

      Learning and memory are elements in which the caudate nucleus also plays an important role. For example, procedural learning depends on this area of ​​the brain. Specifically, the caudate nucleus allows the body to be able to get feedback from the outside world on what is happening and what is being done. In addition it participates in the comprehension of auditory stimuli, like the proper ones of the language.

      Alarm sensation

      Another major function of this brain region is the perception of the feeling of alarm, Thanks to which we can identify that something is not working properly and react accordingly.

      motivation

      The caudate nucleus is of paramount importance in terms of the motivational capacity of the human being. It is a structure which connects the limbic system to the frontal cortex, For cognitive information to be transformed and linked to emotional meaning. Its destruction can lead to the appearance of extreme abulias and PAP syndrome.

      Disorders and alterations in which it participates

      The caudate nucleus and in general all the basal ganglia, because of their multiple connections with other areas of the brain such as the orbitofrontal cortex or the limbic system, are structures of great importance for the proper functioning of the nervous system. and for our adaptation to the environment.

      The presence of alterations can generate or participate in the genesis or maintenance of various types of disorders. Some of the disorders in which the caudate nucleus participates are the following.

      1. Obsessive-compulsive disorder and other obsessive-compulsive disorders

      As we have mentioned, the caudate nucleus plays an important role in the response mechanism to a specific situation, as well as in the feeling of alarm. In the TOC this mechanism presents an over-activationFinding that patients with this disorder usually have high neural activation in the caudate.

      In addition to OCD itself, in other disorders of a similar nature such as accumulation disorder, excoriation disorder or trichotillomania, this high level of activity is also found.

      2. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

      ADHD is another of the disorders in which the caudate nucleus has some level of involvement. More precisely, in this case, an activation is observed below what is usual, with which memory, feedback and motivation capacity is reduced.

        3. Huntington’s Korea

        In Huntington’s Korea, the caudate nucleus is one of the first areas to show neuronal death, and in the long run, it ends up generating progressive loss of executive functions and memory and perform uncontrolled movements in the form of twists and turns of body parts similar to dances.

        4. Parkinson’s

        Parkinson’s disease is another disease related to the caudate nucleus. Specifically, the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease are caused by degradation and death of the neurons that form the black streak path.

        5. Syndrome of loss of psychic self-activation

        Damage to the caudate nucleus causes loss of motivation and impedes the link between emotion and cognition. This is why its destruction generates a deep feeling of indifference no matter what, even if it threatens its own survival.

        6. Hypermnesia

        Although not generally considered to be a disorder, the presence of hypermnesia in some people has been linked, among other areas of the brain, to the caudate nucleus. More precisely, it has been observed that people with above-average memory capacities they have a larger caudate nucleus than most people.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Carlson, NR (2014). Behavioral physiology (11th edition). Madrid: Pearson Education.
        • Kandel, ER; Schwartz, JH and Jessell, TM (2001). Principles of neuroscience. Fourth edition. McGraw-Hill Inter-American. Madrid.
        • Melnick, ME (2013). Disorders of the basal ganglia. A: Umphred DA, Burton GU, Lazarus RT, Roller ML, eds. Umphred’s neurological rehabilitation. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; chap 20.
        • Packard, MG and Knowlton, BJ (2002). Learning and functions of the memory of the basal gray nuclei. Rev Neurosci year 25: 563-59.

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