Involvement of the mediodorsal thalamic nucleus in mediating recollection and familiarity

Neuropsychologia. 2003;41(9):1160-70. doi: 10.1016/s0028-3932(03)00019-8.


The mediodorsal (MD) thalamic nucleus is thought to play an important role in memory processes. Distinct hippocampal-thalamic-prefrontal connections have been described as the potential neural substrate for both, recollection and familiarity. The aim of this study was to investigate whether the MD is part of the circuits underlying these two memory components. We assessed the effects of ischemic thalamic lesions with or without MD involvement on performance in a word list discrimination task and standard tests of memory and executive function. Estimates of recollection and familiarity were derived using the dual-process signal-detection model (DPSD). The results revealed impairments in both, recollection and familiarity, after unilateral thalamic damage, with recollection being more affected than familiarity. There were no significant differences in the memory performance of patients with MD lesions compared to patients with ventrolateral-thalamic lesions except for familiarity estimates, which were lower for the latter group. Lesions involving the MD led to recollection deficits, although inspection of individual cases suggested a decrease in both memory components after damage in the medial part of this nucleus. Executive dysfunction was associated with lateral MD lesions and also ventrolateral-thalamic damage. The findings suggest that MD contributes to recollection, with some preliminary evidence of a contribution of the medial MD to familiarity. The small sample size does, however, not yet allow any clear conclusions in this regard. Since damage in the ventrolateral thalamus leads to memory and executive dysfunction, further research is needed to elucidate the role of this thalamic region in cognition.

MeSH terms

  • Brain Ischemia / physiopathology
  • Brain Ischemia / psychology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Mental Recall / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology
  • Signal Detection, Psychological
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Thalamus / physiopathology*