The subthalamic nucleus (STN) is thought to be a central regulator of behavioral inhibition, which is thought to be a major determinant of impulsivity. Thus, it would be reasonable to hypothesize that STN function is related to impulsivity. However, it has been difficult to test this hypothesis because of the challenges in noninvasively and accurately measuring this structure's signal in humans. We utilized a novel approach for STN signal localization that entails identifying this structure directly on fMRI images for each individual participant in native space. Using this approach, we measured STN responses during the stop signal task in a sample of healthy adult participants. We confirmed that the STN exhibited selective activation during “Stop” trials. Furthermore, the magnitude of STN activation during successful Stop trials inversely correlated with individual differences in trait impulsivity as measured by a personality inventory. Time course analysis revealed that early STN activation differentiated successful from unsuccessful Stop trials, and individual differences in the magnitude of STN activation inversely correlated with stop signal RT, an estimate of time required to stop. These results are consistent with the STN playing a central role in inhibition and related behavioral proclivities, with implications for both normal range function and clinical syndromes of inhibitory dyscontrol. Moreover, the methods utilized in this study for measuring STN fMRI signal in humans may be gainfully applied in future studies to further our understanding of the role of the STN in regulating behavior and neuropsychiatric conditions.

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