The ability to proactively control motor responses, particularly to overcome overlearned or automatic actions, is an essential prerequisite for adaptive, goal-oriented behavior. The substantia nigra (SN), an element of the BG, has figured prominently in current models of response selection. However, because of its small size and proximity to functionally distinct subcortical structures, it has been challenging to test the SN's involvement in response selection using conventional in vivo functional neuroimaging approaches. We developed a new fMRI localization method for directly distinguishing, on echo-planar images, the SN BOLD signal from that of neighboring structures, including the subthalamic nucleus (STN). Using this method, we tested the hypothesis that the SN supports the proactive control of response selection. We acquired high-resolution EPI volumes at 3 T from 16 healthy participants while they completed the Preparing to Overcome Prepotency task of proactive control. There was significantly elevated delay period signal selectively during high- compared with low-control trials in the SN. The STN did not show delay period activity in either condition. SN delay period signal was significantly inversely associated with task performance RTs across participants. These results suggest that our method offers a novel means for measuring SN BOLD responses, provides unique evidence of SN involvement in cognitive control in humans, and suggests a novel mechanism for proactive response selection.

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