The thalamus is a mid-line symmetrical structure within the brains of vertebrates including humans, situated between the cerebral cortex and mid-brain…read more
The thalamus is a mid-line symmetrical structure within the brains of vertebrates including humans, situated between the cerebral cortex and mid-brain. Its function includes relaying sensory and motor signals to the cerebral cortex, along with the regulation of consciousness, sleep, and alertness. The thalamus surrounds the third ventricle. It is the main product of the embryonic diencephalon. The thalamus has multiple functions. It may be thought of as a kind of switchboard of information. It is generally believed to act as a relay between a variety of sub-cortical areas and the cerebral cortex. In particular, every sensory system (with the exception of the olfactory system) includes a thalamic nucleus that receives sensory signals and sends them to the associated primary cortical area. For the visual system, for example, inputs from the retina are sent to the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus, which in turn projects to the primary visual cortex in the occipital lobe. The thalamus is believed to both process sensory information as well as relay it—each of the primary sensory relay areas receives strong "back projections" from the cerebral cortex. Similarly the medial geniculate nucleus acts as a key auditory relay between the inferior colliculus of the mid-brain and the primary auditory cortex, and the ventral posterior nucleus is a key somatosensory relay, which sends touch and proprioceptive information to the primary somatosensory cortex. The thalamus also plays an important role in regulating states of sleep and wakefulness. Thalamic nuclei have strong reciprocal connections with the cerebral cortex, forming thalamo-cortico-thalamic circuits that are believed to be involved with consciousness. The thalamus plays a major role in regulating arousal, the level of awareness, and activity. Damage to the thalamus can lead to permanent coma. The role of the thalamus in the more anterior pallidal and nigral territories in the basal ganglia system disturbances is recognized but still poorly understood. The contribution of the thalamus to vestibular or to tectal functions is almost ignored. The thalamus has been thought of as a "relay" that simply forwards signals to the cerebral cortex. Newer research suggests that thalamic function is more selective. Many different functions are linked to various regions of the thalamus. This is the case for many of the sensory systems (except for the olfactory system), such as the auditory, somatic, visceral, gustatory and visual systems where localized lesions provoke specific sensory deficits. A major role of the thalamus is devoted to "motor" systems. The thalamus is functionally connected to the hippocampus as part of the extended hippocampal system at the thalamic anterior nuclei with respect to spatial memory and spatial sensory datum they are crucial for human episodic memory and rodent event memory. There is support for the hypothesis that thalamic regions connection to particular parts of the mesio-temporal lobe provide differentiation of the functioning of recollective and familiarity memory. The neuronal information processes necessary for motor control were proposed as a network involving the thalamus as a subcortical motor center. Through investigations of the anatomy of the brains of primates the nature of the interconnected tissues of the cerebellum to the multiple motor cortices suggested that the thalamus fulfills a key function in providing the specific channels from the basal ganglia and cerebellum to the cortical motor areas. In an investigation of the saccade and antisaccade motor response in three monkeys, the thalamic regions were found to be involved in the generation of antisaccade eye-movement.