The acquisition of motor skills involves implementing action sequences that increase task efficiency while reducing cognitive loads. This learning capacity depends on specific cortico-basal ganglia circuits that are affected by normal ageing. Here, combining a series of novel behavioural tasks with extensive neuronal mapping and targeted cell manipulations in mice, we explored how ageing of cortico-basal ganglia networks alters the microstructure of action throughout sequence learning. We found that, after extended training, aged mice produced shorter actions and displayed squeezed automatic behaviours characterised by ultrafast oligomeric action chunks that correlated with deficient reorganisation of corticostriatal activity. Chemogenetic disruption of a striatal subcircuit in young mice reproduced age-related within-sequence features, and the introduction of an action-related feedback cue temporarily restored normal sequence structure in aged mice. Our results reveal static properties of aged cortico-basal ganglia networks that introduce temporal limits to action automaticity, something that can compromise procedural learning in ageing.
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