A conductor hidden in the orchestra? Role of the habenular complex in monoamine transmission and cognition

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2007;31(5):658-72. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2007.01.004. Epub 2007 Feb 12.


Influences of the habenular complex on electrophysiological and neurochemical aspects of brain functioning are well known. However, its role in cognition has been sparsely investigated until recently. The habenular complex, composed of medial and lateral subdivisions, is a node linking the forebrain with midbrain and hindbrain structures. The lateral habenula is the principal actor in this direct dialogue, while the medial habenula mostly conveys information to the interpeduncular nucleus before this modulates further regions. Here we describe neuroanatomical and physiological aspects of the habenular complex, and its role in cognitive processes, including new behavioral, electrophysiological and imaging findings. Habenular complex lesions result in deficits in learning, memory and attention, some of which decline during repeated testing, while others become worse, consistent with multiple roles in cognition. The habenular complex is particularly responsive to feedback about errors. Electrophysiological studies indicate a role in metaplasticity, the modulation of neuroplasticity. These studies thus reveal important roles of the habenular complex in learning, memory and attention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biogenic Monoamines / metabolism*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Habenula / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*


  • Biogenic Monoamines