The thalamostriatal systems: anatomical and functional organization in normal and parkinsonian states

Brain Res Bull. 2009 Feb 16;78(2-3):60-8. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresbull.2008.08.015. Epub 2008 Sep 19.


Although we have gained significant knowledge in the anatomy and microcircuitry of the thalamostriatal system over the last decades, the exact function(s) of these complex networks remain(s) poorly understood. It is now clear that the thalamostriatal system is not a unique entity, but consists of multiple neural systems that originate from a wide variety of thalamic nuclei and terminate in functionally segregated striatal territories. The primary source of thalamostriatal projections is the caudal intralaminar nuclear group which, in primates, comprises the centromedian and parafascicular nuclei (CM/Pf). These two nuclei provide massive, functionally organized glutamatergic inputs to the whole striatal complex. There are several anatomical and physiological features that distinguish this system from other thalamostriatal projections. Although all glutamatergic thalamostriatal neurons express vGluT2 and release glutamate as neurotransmitter, CM/Pf neurons target preferentially the dendritic shafts of striatal projection neurons, whereas all other thalamic inputs are almost exclusively confined to the head of dendritic spines. This anatomic arrangement suggests that transmission of input from sources other than CM/Pf to the striatal neurons is likely regulated by dopaminergic afferents in the same manner as cortical inputs, while the CM/Pf axo-dendritic synapses do not display any particular relationships with dopaminergic terminals. A better understanding of the role of these systems in the functional circuitry of the basal ganglia relies on future research of the physiology and pathophysiology of these networks in normal and pathological basal ganglia conditions. Although much remains to be known about the role of these systems, recent electrophysiological studies from awake monkeys have provided convincing evidence that the CM/Pf-striatal system is the entrance for attention-related stimuli to the basal ganglia circuits. However, the processing and transmission of this information likely involves intrinsic GABAergic and cholinergic striatal networks, thereby setting the stage for complex physiological responses of striatal output neurons to CM/Pf activation. Finally, another exciting development that will surely generate significant interest towards the thalamostriatal systems in years to come is the possibility that CM/Pf may be a potential surgical target for movement disorders, most particularly Tourette syndrome and Parkinson's disease. Although the available clinical evidence is encouraging, these procedures remain empirical at this stage because of the limited understanding of the thalamostriatal systems.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Basal Ganglia / pathology
  • Basal Ganglia / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Intralaminar Thalamic Nuclei / pathology
  • Intralaminar Thalamic Nuclei / physiopathology*
  • Nerve Net / pathology
  • Nerve Net / physiopathology
  • Neural Pathways / pathology
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / physiology
  • Parkinson Disease / pathology
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology*
  • Synapses / metabolism
  • Synapses / physiology
  • Thalamus / pathology
  • Thalamus / physiopathology*


  • Neurotransmitter Agents