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Neuron. 2019 Sep 4;103(5):762-770. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2019.06.005.

Thalamocortical Circuit Motifs: A General Framework.

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Department of Brain and Cognitive Science and the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Neurobiology, University of Chicago School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, USA. Electronic address:


The role of the thalamus in cortical sensory transmission is well known, but its broader role in cognition is less appreciated. Recent studies have shown thalamic engagement in dynamic regulation of cortical activity in attention, executive control, and perceptual decision-making, but the circuit mechanisms underlying such functionality are unknown. Because the thalamus is composed of excitatory neurons that are devoid of local recurrent excitatory connectivity, delineating long-range, input-output connectivity patterns of single thalamic neurons is critical for building functional models. We discuss this need in relation to existing organizational schemes such as core versus matrix and first-order versus higher-order relay nuclei. We propose that a new classification is needed based on thalamocortical motifs, where structure naturally informs function. Overall, our synthesis puts understanding thalamic organization at the forefront of existing research in systems and computational neuroscience, with both basic and translational applications.


cognition; cortex; lateral geniculate nucleus; mediodorsal nucleus; thalamocortical; thalamus

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