Functional heterogeneity of the limbic thalamus: From hippocampal to cortical functions

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2015 Jul;54:120-30. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2014.11.011. Epub 2014 Nov 21.


Today, the idea that the integrity of the limbic thalamus is necessary for normal memory functions is well established. However, if the study of thalamic patients emphasized the anterior and the mediodorsal thalamus as the critical thalamic loci supporting cognitive functions, clinical studies have so far failed to attribute a specific role to each of these regions. In view of these difficulties, we review here the experimental data conducted in rodents harboring specific lesions of each thalamic region. These data clearly indicate a major functional dissociation within the limbic thalamus. The anterior thalamus provides critical support for hippocampal functions due to its cardinal location in the Papez circuit, while the mediodorsal thalamus may signal relevant information in a circuit encompassing the basolateral amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. Interestingly, while clinical studies have suggested that diencephalic pathologies may disconnect the medial temporal lobe from the cortex, experimental studies conducted in rodent show how this may differently affect distinct temporo-thalamo-cortical circuits, sharing the same general organization but supporting dissociable functions.

Keywords: Anterior and mediodorsal thalamic nuclei; Attention; Behavioral flexibility; Diencephalic amnesia; Goal-directed behavior; Lesion; Papez circuit; Rodent; Spatial and nonspatial cognition; System-level disconnection; Ventroamygdalofugal pathway.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anterior Thalamic Nuclei / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / physiology*
  • Mediodorsal Thalamic Nucleus / physiology*
  • Memory / physiology*