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Caudate nucleus

Recommended video: Basal ganglia [22:07]
Main nuclei of the basal ganglia and surrounding structures (20 structures).

The caudate nucleus is a crucial component of the basal ganglia/nuclei. This gray matter mass lies adjacent to the lateral ventricle and it follows the direction of the lateral ventricles. 
Together with the putamen (which has similar cytoarchitecture) they form the dorsal striatum

The caudate nucleus is a C-shaped structure that comprises three distinct regions: the head, body and tail. 

The head is an enlarged rostral end, that bulges into the lateral ventricle. In its anterior-most part, it connects with the putamen through the nucleus accumbens. Posteriorly, the head is continuous with a long, curved part of the caudate nucleus called the body, which courses posteriorly and lies on the floor of the lateral ventricle. Near the posterior end of the thalamus, the body decreases in diameter and continues as a long, narrow part of the caudate nucleus known as the tail. The tail curves ventrally and forwards within the lateral ventricle, passing along the roof of its temporal/inferior horn, extending into the temporal lobe. The internal capsule acts as a boundary, separating the caudate nucleus from the lentiform nucleus.

The caudate nucleus together with the putamen, form the dorsal striatum. Those two structures contain similar types of cells and have the same cell organization. Thus, those two structures can be considered as a single entity. which is part of the basal ganglia pathways and has various functions:

  • Motor function: The caudate nucleus is integral in processing sensory information related to the body's spatial orientation. Based on this sensory input, it helps to fine-tune motor responses by relaying instructions to the thalamus, which in turn influences motor activity. This process ensures movements are precise and appropriately coordinated with the body's current position.
  • Posture: Beyond the general modulation of movement, the caudate nucleus is specifically involved in maintaining body and limb posture. It also enhances the speed and accuracy of movements directed towards specific targets, underlining its role in the smooth execution of both voluntary and involuntary movements.
  • Cognitive functions: Besides its involvement in motor control, the caudate nucleus has a significant role in a variety of cognitive and emotional processes such as memory, learning and emotions. 
Terminology Latin: Nucleus caudatus: caput nuclei caudati, corpus nuclei caudati, cauda nuclei caudati
Caudate nucleus; head of caudate nucleus, body of caudate nucleus, tail of caudate nucleus
Function Motor function and fine control of movements
Maintenance of posture
Cognitive functions (memory, learning, emotions)
Location Within the corpus striatum. Lateral to the lateral ventricles and medial to the internal capsule.

Learn more about the caudate nucleus in this study unit:

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