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Bordeaux Neurocampus lecture – Mathieu Wolff

28 May 2021 / 11:30 - 12:30

Thalamocortical circuits from neuroanatomy to mental representations


In highly volatile environments, performing actions that address current needs and desires is an ongoing challenge for living organisms. For example, the predictive value of environmental signals needs to be updated when predicted and actual outcomes differ. Furthermore, organisms also need to gain control over the environment through actions that are expected to produce specific outcomes. The data to be presented will show that these processes are highly reliant on thalamocortical circuits wherein thalamic nuclei make a critical contribution to adaptive decision-making, challenging the view that the thalamus only acts as a relay station for the cortical stage. Over the past few years, our work has highlighted the specific contribution of multiple thalamic nuclei in the ability to update the predictive link between events or the causal link between actions and their outcomes via the combination of targeted thalamic interventions (lesion, chemogenetics, disconnections) with behavioral procedures rooted in experimental psychology. We argue that several features of thalamocortical architecture are consistent with a prominent role for thalamic nuclei in shaping mental representations.


Mathieu Wolff defended his PhD in 2004 at the university of Bordeaux.  His work consisted in examining spatial and nonspatial abilities in various mice models to highlight the role of specific 5-HT receptors in cognitive processes. He then did his postdoctoral research (2004-2007) at the university of Canterbury (New Zealand) where he developed his interest for thalamic nuclei and their role in cognition. He also examined the possibility to alleviate the cognitive deficits elicited by thalamic damage through environmental enrichment. He secured a researcher position at the CNRS in 2008. Since then, he has been working at the Aquitaine Institute for Cognitive and Integrative Neurosciences (INCIA, Bordeaux, France) where he developed several lines of research aimed at understanding how thalamic nuclei and cortical regions interact to support cognition. To this end he developed various experimental approaches ranging from descriptive to functional neuroanatomy. He is currently a CNRS research director and he is the co-leader of the DECAD (Decision & Adaptation) team.

Key publications

Wolff M, Morceau S, Folkard R, Martin-Cortecero J, Groh A (2021) A thalamic bridge from sensory perception to cognition. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 120:222–235.

Wolff M, Vann SD (2019) The Cognitive Thalamus as a Gateway to Mental Representations. J Neurosci 39:3–14.

Fresno V, Parkes SL, Faugère A, Coutureau E, Wolff M (2019) A thalamocortical circuit for updating action-outcome associations. Elife 8.

Alcaraz F, Fresno V, Marchand AR, Kremer EJ, Coutureau E, Wolff M (2018) Thalamocortical and corticothalamic pathways differentially contribute to goal-directed behaviors in the rat. Elife 7.

Alcaraz F, Marchand AR, Courtand G, Coutureau E, Wolff M (2016) Parallel inputs from the mediodorsal thalamus to the prefrontal cortex in the rat. Eur J Neurosci 44:1972–1986.

Alcaraz F, Marchand AR, Vidal E, Guillou A, Faugere A, Coutureau E, Wolff M (2015) Flexible Use of Predictive Cues beyond the Orbitofrontal Cortex: Role of the Submedius Thalamic Nucleus. J Neurosci 35:13183–13193.

Wolff M, Alcaraz F, Marchand AR, Coutureau E (2015) Functional heterogeneity of the limbic thalamus: From hippocampal to cortical functions. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 54:120–130.

Wolff M, Loukavenko EA, Will BE, Dalrymple-Alford JC (2008) The extended hippocampal-diencephalic memory system: enriched housing promotes recovery of the flexible use of spatial representations after anterior thalamic lesions. Hippocampus 18:996–1007.

Wolff M, Gibb SJ, Dalrymple-Alford JC (2006) Beyond spatial memory: the anterior thalamus and memory for the temporal order of a sequence of odor cues. J Neurosci 26:2907–2913.

Mathieu Wolff
Team Decision and Adaptation

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28 May 2021
11:30 - 12:30
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