Motor thalamus (Mthal) is implicated in the control of movement because it is strategically located between motor areas of the cerebral cortex and motor-related subcortical structures, such as the cerebellum and basal ganglia (BG). The role of BG and cerebellum in motor control has been extensively studied but how Mthal processes inputs from these two networks is unclear. Specifically, there is considerable debate about the role of BG inputs on Mthal activity. This review summarizes anatomical and physiological knowledge of the Mthal and its afferents and reviews current theories of Mthal function by discussing the impact of cortical, BG and cerebellar inputs on Mthal activity. One view is that Mthal activity in BG and cerebellar-receiving territories is primarily "driven" by glutamatergic inputs from the cortex or cerebellum, respectively, whereas BG inputs are modulatory and do not strongly determine Mthal activity. This theory is steeped in the assumption that the Mthal processes information in the same way as sensory thalamus, through interactions of modulatory inputs with a single driver input. Another view, from BG models, is that BG exert primary control on the BG-receiving Mthal so it effectively relays information from BG to cortex. We propose a new "super-integrator" theory where each Mthal territory processes multiple driver or driver-like inputs (cortex and BG, cortex and cerebellum), which are the result of considerable integrative processing. Thus, BG and cerebellar Mthal territories assimilate motivational and proprioceptive motor information previously integrated in cortico-BG and cortico-cerebellar networks, respectively, to develop sophisticated motor signals that are transmitted in parallel pathways to cortical areas for optimal generation of motor programmes. Finally, we briefly review the pathophysiological changes that occur in the BG in parkinsonism and generate testable hypotheses about how these may affect processing of inputs in the Mthal.
Keywords: LTS burst; Parkinson’s disease; basal ganglia; cerebellum; motor cortex; motor thalamus.