The dorsolateral striatum (DLS) is implicated in habit formation. However, the DLS circuit mechanisms underlying habit remain unclear. A key role for DLS is to transform sensorimotor cortical input into firing of output neurons that project to the mutually antagonistic direct and indirect basal ganglia pathways. Here we examine whether habit alters this input-output function. By imaging cortically evoked firing in large populations of pathway-defined striatal projection neurons (SPNs), we identify features that strongly correlate with habitual behavior on a subject-by-subject basis. Habitual behavior correlated with strengthened DLS output to both pathways as well as a tendency for action-promoting direct pathway SPNs to fire before indirect pathway SPNs. In contrast, habit suppression correlated solely with a weakened direct pathway output. Surprisingly, all effects were broadly distributed in space. Together, these findings indicate that the striatum imposes broad, pathway-specific modulations of incoming activity to render learned motor behaviors habitual.

Find the full pdf here: doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2015.12.032.

Pathway-Specific Striatal Substrates for Habitual Behavior.

Justin K. O’Hare et al., Neuron. 2016 Feb 3;89(3):472-9.