Mapping changes of in vivo connectivity patterns in the human mediodorsal thalamus: correlations with higher cognitive and executive functions

Brain Imaging Behav. 2012 Sep;6(3):472-83. doi: 10.1007/s11682-012-9172-5.


The mediodorsal thalamic nucleus is recognized as an association hub mediating interconnections with mainly the prefrontal cortex. Tracer studies in primates and in vivo diffusion tensor tractography findings in both humans and monkeys confirm its role in relaying networks that connect to the dorsolateral prefrontal, orbitofrontal, frontal medial and cingulate cortex. Our study was designed to use in vivo probabilistic tractography to describe the pathways emerging from or projecting to the mediodorsal nucleus; moreover, to use such information to automatically define subdivisions based on the divergence of remote structural connections. Diffusion tensor MR imaging data of 156 subjects were utilized to perform connectivity-based segmentation of the mediodorsal nucleus by employing a k-means clustering algorithm. Two domains were revealed (medial and lateral) that are separated from each other by a sagittally oriented plane. For each subject, general assessment of cognitive performance by means of the Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence and measures of Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System (D-KEFS) test was utilized. Inter-subject variability in terms of connectivity-based cluster sizes was discovered and the relative sizes of the lateral mediodorsal domain correlated with the individuals' performance in the D-KEFS Sorting test (r = 0.232, p = 0.004). Our results show that the connectivity-based parcellation technique applied to the mediodorsal thalamic nucleus delivers a single subject level descriptor of connectional topography; furthermore, we revealed a possible weak interaction between executive performance and the size of the thalamic area from which pathways converge to the lateral prefrontal cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition
  • Connectome / methods*
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mediodorsal Thalamic Nucleus / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Statistics as Topic