The intralaminar and midline nuclei of the thalamus. Anatomical and functional evidence for participation in processes of arousal and awareness

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2002 Sep;39(2-3):107-40. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0173(02)00181-9.


The thalamic midline and intralaminar nuclei, long thought to be a non-specific arousing system in the brain, have been shown to be involved in separate and specific brain functions, such as specific cognitive, sensory and motor functions. Fundamental to the participation of the midline and intralaminar nuclei in such diverse functions seems to be a role in awareness. It is unknown whether the midline and intralaminar nuclei, together often referred to as the 'non-specific' nuclei of the thalamus, act together or whether each nucleus is involved idiosyncratically in separate circuits underlying cortical processes. Detailed knowledge of the connectivity of each of these nuclei is needed to judge the nature of their contribution to cortical functioning. The present account provides an overview of the results of neuroanatomical tracing studies on the connections of the individual intralaminar and midline thalamic nuclei in the rat, that have been performed over the past decade in our laboratory. The results are discussed together with those reported by other laboratories, and with those obtained in other species. On the basis of the patterns of the afferent and efferent projections, we conclude that the midline and intralaminar thalamic nuclei can be clustered into four groups. Each of the groups can be shown to have its own set of target and input structures, both cortically and subcortically. These anatomical relationships, in combination with functional studies in animals and in humans, lead us to propose that the midline and intralaminar nuclei as a whole play a role in awareness, with each of the groups subserving a role in a different aspect of awareness. The following groups can be discerned: (1) a dorsal group, consisting of the paraventricular, parataenial and intermediodorsal nuclei, involved in viscero-limbic functions; (2) a lateral group, comprising the central lateral and paracentral nuclei and the anterior part of the central medial nucleus, involved in cognitive functions; (3) a ventral group, made up of the reuniens and rhomboid nucleus and the posterior part of the central medial nucleus, involved in multimodal sensory processing; (4) a posterior group, consisting of the centre médian and parafascicular nuclei, involved in limbic motor functions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Awareness / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Intralaminar Thalamic Nuclei / anatomy & histology*
  • Intralaminar Thalamic Nuclei / physiology*
  • Midline Thalamic Nuclei / anatomy & histology*
  • Midline Thalamic Nuclei / physiology*