The primate mediodorsal (MD) nucleus and its projection to the frontal lobe

J Comp Neurol. 1985 Dec 22;242(4):535-60. doi: 10.1002/cne.902420406.


The frontal lobe projections of the mediodorsal (MD) nucleus of the thalamus were examined in rhesus monkey by transport of retrograde markers injected into one of nine cytoarchitectonic regions (Walker's areas 6, 8A, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 46, and Brodmann's area 4) located in the rostral third of the cerebrum. Each area of prefrontal, premotor, or motor cortex injected was found to receive a topographically unique thalamic input from clusters of cells in specific subdivisions within MD. All of the prefrontal areas examined also receive topographically organized inputs from other thalamic nuclei including, most prominently, the ventral anterior (VA) and medial pulvinar nuclei. Conversely, and in agreement with previous findings, MD projects to areas of the frontal lobe beyond the traditional borders of prefrontal cortex, such as the anterior cingulate and supplementary motor cortex. The topography of thalamocortical neurons revealed in coronal sections through VA, MD, and pulvinar is circumferential. In the medial part of MD, for example, thalamocortical neurons shift from a dorsal to a ventral position for cortical targets lying medial to lateral along the ventral surface of the lobe; neurons in the lateral MD move from a ventral to a dorsal position, for cortical areas situated lateral to medial on the convexity of the hemisphere. The aggregate evidence for topographic specificity is supported further by experiments in which different fluorescent dyes were placed in multiple areas of the frontal lobe in each of three cases. The results show that very few, if any, thalamic neurons project to more than one area of cortex. The widespread cortical targets of MD neurons together with evidence for multiple thalamic inputs to prefrontal areas support a revision of the classical hodological definition of prefrontal cortex as the exclusive cortical recipient of MD projections. Rather, the prefrontal cortex is defined by multiple specific relationships with the thalamus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axonal Transport
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Frontal Lobe / anatomy & histology*
  • Horseradish Peroxidase
  • Injections, Intraventricular
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Neurons / analysis
  • Thalamic Nuclei / anatomy & histology*


  • Fluorescent Dyes
  • Horseradish Peroxidase