The Cognitive Thalamus as a Gateway to Mental Representations

Mathieu Wolff, Seralynne D. Vann
J. Neurosci.. 2018-11-02; 39(1): 3-14
DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0479-18.2018

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The Cognitive Thalamus as a gateway to mental representations.

Wolff M(1)(2), Vann SD(3).

Author information:
(1)CNRS, INCIA, UMR 5287, Bordeaux, France
(2)University of Bordeaux, INCIA, UMR 5287, Bordeaux, France.
(3)School of Psychology, Cardiff university, Cardiff, CF14 4HD, UK.

Historically, the thalamus has been viewed as little more than a relay, simply
transferring information to key players of the cast, the cortex and hippocampus,
without providing any unique functional contribution. In recent years, evidence
from multiple laboratories researching different thalamic nuclei has contradicted
this idea of the thalamus as a passive structure. Dated models of thalamic
functions are being pushed aside, revealing a greater and far more complex
contribution of the thalamus for cognition. In this Viewpoint, we show how recent
data support novel views of thalamic functions that emphasize integrative roles
in cognition, ranging from learning and memory to flexible adaption. We propose
that these apparently separate cognitive functions may, in fact, be supported by
a more general role in shaping mental representations. Several features of
thalamocortical circuits are consistent with this suggested role and we highlight
how divergent and convergent thalamocortical and corticothalamic pathways may
complement each other to support these functions. Furthermore, the role of the
thalamus for subcortical integration is highlighted as a key mechanism for
maintaining and updating representations. Finally, we discuss future areas of
research and stress the importance of incorporating new experimental findings
into existing knowledge to continue developing thalamic models. The presence of
thalamic pathology in a number of neurological conditions reinforces the need to
better understand the role of this region in cognition.

Copyright © 2018 Wolff and Vann.

DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0479-18.2018
PMID: 30389839

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