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Control of actions allows adaptive, goal-directed behaviour. The basal ganglia, including the subthalamic nucleus, are thought to play a central role in dynamically controlling actions through recurrent negative feedback loops with the cerebral cortex. Here, we summarize recent translational studies that used deep brain stimulation to record neural activity from and apply electrical stimulation to the subthalamic nucleus in people with Parkinson's disease. These studies have elucidated spatial, spectral and temporal features of the neural mechanisms underlying the controlled delay of actions in cortico-subthalamic networks and demonstrated their causal effects on behaviour in distinct processing windows. While these mechanisms have been conceptualized as control signals for suppressing impulsive response tendencies in conflict tasks and as decision threshold adjustments in value-based and perceptual decisions, we propose a common framework linking decision-making, cognition and movement. Within this framework subthalamic deep brain stimulation can lead to suboptimal choices by reducing the time that patients take for deliberation before committing to an action. However, clinical studies have consistently shown that the occurrence of impulse control disorders is reduced, not increased, after subthalamic deep brain stimulation surgery. This apparent contradiction can be reconciled when recognizing the multifaceted nature of impulsivity, its underlying mechanisms and modulation by treatment. While subthalamic deep brain stimulation renders patients susceptible to making decisions without proper forethought, this can be disentangled from effects related to dopamine comprising sensitivity to benefits vs. costs, reward delay aversion and learning from outcomes. Alterations in these dopamine-mediated mechanisms are thought to underlie the development of impulse control disorders, and can be relatively spared with reduced dopaminergic medication after subthalamic deep brain stimulation. Together, results from studies using deep brain stimulation as an experimental tool have improved our understanding of action control in the human brain and have important implications for treatment of patients with Neurological disorders.

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basal ganglia, cognitive control, decision-making, impulse control disorders, local field potentials, subthalamic nucleus