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Wiley Interdiscip Rev Cogn Sci. 2013 Nov;4(6):609-622. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1256. Epub 2013 Sep 30.

The thalamus: gateway to the mind.

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Department of Psychology and Brain Research Centre, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada.


The thalamus of the brain is far more than the simple sensory relay it was long thought to be. From its location at the top of the brain stem it interacts directly with nearly every part of the brain. Its dense loops into and out of cortex render it functionally a seventh cortical layer. Moreover, it receives and sends connections to most subcortical areas as well. Of course it does function as a very sophisticated sensory relay and thus is of vital importance to perception. But also it functions critically in all mental operations, including attention, memory, and consciousness, likely in different ways for different processes, as indicated by the consequences of damage to its various nuclei as well as by invasive studies in nonhuman animals. It plays a critical role also in the arousal system of the brain, in emotion, in movement, and in coordinating cortical computations. Given these important functional roles, and the dearth of knowledge about the details of its nonsensory nuclei, it is an attractive target for intensive study in the future, particularly in regard to its role in healthy and impaired cognitive functioning. WIREs Cogn Sci 2013, 4:523-545. doi: 10.1002/wcs.1256 CONFLICT OF INTEREST: The author has declared no conflicts of interest for this article. For further resources related to this article, please visit the WIREs website.


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