Striatal neurones receive myriad of synaptic inputs originating from different sources. Massive afferents from all areas of the cortex and the thalamus represent the most important source of excitatory amino acids, whereas the nigrostriatal pathway and intrinsic circuits provide the striatum with dopamine, acetylcholine, GABA, nitric oxide and adenosine. All these neurotransmitter systems interact each other and with voltage-dependent conductances to regulate the efficacy of the synaptic transmission within this nucleus. The integrative action exerted by striatal projection neurones on this converging information dictates the final output of the striatum to the other basal ganglia structures. Recent morphological, immunohistochemical and electrophysiological findings demonstrated that the striatum also contains different interneurones, whose role in physiological and pathological conditions represents an intriguing challenge in these years. The use of the in vitro brain slice preparation has allowed not only the detailed investigation of the direct pre- and postsynaptic electrophysiological actions of several neurotransmitters in striatal neurones, but also the understanding of their role in two different forms of corticostriatal synaptic plasticity, long-term depression and long-term potentiation. These long-lasting changes in the efficacy of excitatory transmission have been proposed to represent the cellular basis of some forms of motor learning and are altered in animal models of human basal ganglia disorders, such as Parkinson's disease. The striatum also expresses high sensitivity to hypoxic-aglycemic insults. During these pathological conditions, striatal synaptic transmission is altered depending on presynaptic inhibition of transmitter release and opposite membrane potential changes occur in projection neurones and in cholinergic interneurones. These ionic mechanisms might partially explain the selective neuronal vulnerability observed in the striatum during global ischemia and Huntington's disease.
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