Lesions in the motor thalamus can cause deficits in somatic movements. However, the involvement of the thalamus in the generation of eye movements has only recently been elucidated. In this article, we review recent advances into the role of the thalamus in eye movements. Anatomically, the anterior group of the intralaminar nuclei and paralaminar portion of the ventrolateral, ventroanterior and mediodorsal nuclei of the thalamus send massive projections to the frontal eye field and supplementary eye field. In addition, these parts of the thalamus, collectively known as the 'oculomotor thalamus', receive inputs from the cerebellum, the basal ganglia and virtually all stages of the saccade-generating pathways in the brainstem. In their pioneering work in the 1980s, Schlag and Schlag-Rey found a variety of eye movement-related neurons in the oculomotor thalamus, and proposed that this region might constitute a 'central controller' playing a role in monitoring eye movements and generating self-paced saccades. This hypothesis has been evaluated by recent experiments in non-human primates and by clinical observations of subjects with thalamic lesions. In addition, several recent studies have also addressed the involvement of the oculomotor thalamus in the generation of anti-saccades and the selection of targets for saccades. These studies have revealed the impact of subcortical signals on the higher-order cortical processing underlying saccades, and suggest the possibility of future studies using the oculomotor system as a model to explore the neural mechanisms of global cortico-subcortical loops and the neural basis of a local network between the thalamus and cortex.
© 2011 The Authors. European Journal of Neuroscience © 2011 Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.