The intralaminar and medial thalamic nuclei are part of the higher-order thalamus, which receives little sensory input, and instead forms extensive cortico-thalamo-cortical pathways. The large mediodorsal thalamic nucleus predominantly connects with the prefrontal cortex, the adjacent intralaminar nuclei connect with fronto-parietal cortex, and the midline thalamic nuclei connect with medial prefrontal cortex and medial temporal lobe. Taking into account this connectivity pattern, it is not surprising that the intralaminar and medial thalamus has been implicated in a variety of cognitive functions, including memory processing, attention and orienting, as well as reward-based behavior. This review addresses how the intralaminar and medial thalamus may regulate information transmission in cortical circuits. A key neural mechanism may involve intralaminar and medial thalamic neurons modulating the degree of synchrony between different groups of cortical neurons according to behavioral demands. Such a thalamic-mediated synchronization mechanism may give rise to large-scale integration of information across multiple cortical circuits, consequently influencing the level of arousal and consciousness. Overall, the growing evidence supports a general role for the higher-order thalamus in the control of cortical information transmission and cognitive processing.
Keywords: anesthesia; attention; mediodorsal nucleus; memory; neural synchrony; reuniens nucleus; reward; schizophrenia.