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Neuron. 2020 Jan 22. pii: S0896-6273(20)30005-2. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2020.01.005. [Epub ahead of print]

Thalamus Modulates Consciousness via Layer-Specific Control of Cortex.

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Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA.
Department of Anesthesiology, Rambam Health Care Campus, Haifa 3109601, Israel; Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine, Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa 3200003, Israel.
Department of Psychology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53706, USA; Wisconsin National Primate Research Center, Madison, WI 53715, USA. Electronic address:


Functional MRI and electrophysiology studies suggest that consciousness depends on large-scale thalamocortical and corticocortical interactions. However, it is unclear how neurons in different cortical layers and circuits contribute. We simultaneously recorded from central lateral thalamus (CL) and across layers of the frontoparietal cortex in awake, sleeping, and anesthetized macaques. We found that neurons in thalamus and deep cortical layers are most sensitive to changes in consciousness level, consistent across different anesthetic agents and sleep. Deep-layer activity is sustained by interactions with CL. Consciousness also depends on deep-layer neurons providing feedback to superficial layers (not to deep layers), suggesting that long-range feedback and intracolumnar signaling are important. To show causality, we stimulated CL in anesthetized macaques and effectively restored arousal and wake-like neural processing. This effect was location and frequency specific. Our findings suggest layer-specific thalamocortical correlates of consciousness and inform how targeted deep brain stimulation can alleviate disorders of consciousness.


anesthesia; central thalamus; consciousness; deep brain stimulation; feedback; feedforward; frontal cortex; oscillations; parietal cortex; sleep

Conflict of interest statement

Declaration of Interests A.R. is a consultant for and receives funding from Medtronic. The other authors declare no competing interests.

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