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Previous studies have delineated the neural processes of motor response inhibition during a stop signal task, with most reports focusing on the cortical mechanisms. A recent study highlighted the importance of sub-cortical processes during stop signal inhibition in 13 individuals and suggested that the subthalamic nucleus (STN) may play a role in blocking response execution (Aron and Poldrack, 2006). Here in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study we replicated the finding of greater activation in the STN during stop (success or error) trials, compared to go trials, in a larger sample of subjects (n=30). However, since a contrast between stop and go trials involved processes that could be distinguished from response inhibition, the role of subthalamic activity during stop signal inhibition remained to be specified. To this end we followed an alternative strategy to isolate the neural correlates of response inhibition (Li et al., 2006a). We compared individuals with short and long stop signal reaction time (SSRT) as computed by the horse race model. The two groups of subjects did not differ in any other aspects of stop signal performance. We showed greater activity in the short than the long SSRT group in the caudate head during stop successes, as compared to stop errors. Caudate activity was positively correlated with medial prefrontal activity previously shown to mediate stop signal inhibition. Conversely, bilateral thalamic nuclei and other parts of the basal ganglia, including the STN, showed greater activation in subjects with long than short SSRT. Thus, fMRI delineated contrasting roles of the prefrontal-caudate and striato-thalamic activities in mediating motor response inhibition.
Keywords: basal ganglia, thalamus, impulsivity, no-go, neuroimaging, inhibitory control