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, 221 (4), 1971-84

Functional Topography of the Thalamocortical System in Human

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Functional Topography of the Thalamocortical System in Human

Rui Yuan et al. Brain Struct Funct.

Abstract

Various studies have indicated that the thalamus is involved in controlling both cortico-cortical information flow and cortical communication with the rest of the brain. Detailed anatomy and functional connectivity patterns of the thalamocortical system are essential to understanding the cortical organization and pathophysiology of a wide range of thalamus-related neurological and neuropsychiatric diseases. The current study used resting-state fMRI to investigate the topography of the human thalamocortical system from a functional perspective. The thalamus-related cortical networks were identified by performing independent component analysis on voxel-based thalamic functional connectivity maps across a large group of subjects. The resulting functional brain networks were very similar to well-established resting-state network maps. Using these brain network components in a spatial regression model with each thalamic voxel's functional connectivity map, we localized the thalamic subdivisions related to each brain network. For instance, the medial dorsal nucleus was shown to be associated with the default mode, the bilateral executive, the medial visual networks; and the pulvinar nucleus was involved in both the dorsal attention and the visual networks. These results revealed that a single nucleus may have functional connections with multiple cortical regions or even multiple functional networks, and may be potentially related to the function of mediation or modulation of multiple cortical networks. This observed organization of thalamocortical system provided a reference for studying the functions of thalamic sub-regions. The importance of intrinsic connectivity-based mapping of the thalamocortical relationship is discussed, as well as the applicability of the approach for future studies.

Keywords: Resting state; Thalamus; fMRI.

Figures

Figure 1
Figure 1
The thalamus mask (679 voxels) defined using the Harvard-Oxford cortical and subcortical structural atlases and overlaid on a MNI template. The slice number of x, y, and z are given in MNI coordinates.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Schematic flow of thalamocortical functional connectivity analysis. Step A: time series from the thalamus mask (679 voxels in total) were extracted. Step B: each time series from each voxel of the thalamus was correlated to the rest of the whole brain. Step C: ICA was performed on functional connectivity maps. Step D: 10 well-established brain networks were identified (NB: in this panel thresholding is only for visualization; IC maps were not thresholded at this stage of analysis) Step E: the spatial regression model was used to calculate the thalamic β maps. Step F: thalamic β maps were constructed for every network. Step G: one sample t-test was performed across every thalamic β map of each subject.
Figure 3
Figure 3. Thalamus-related cortical networks from group level ICA
Networks are thresholded at p<0.05 and rendered on MNI template. Identified brain networks include: (A) the default mode (DMN); (B) the posterior DMN; (C) the left executive; (D) the right executive; (E) the auditory; (F) the dorsal-attention; (G) the salience; (H) the sensorimotor; (I) the lateral visual; and (J) the medial visual networks.
Figure 4
Figure 4
Thalamic sub-regions that correspond to different brain networks. All those subregions of the thalamus are threshold at FWE corrected p< 0.05.
Figure 5
Figure 5
Overlaps of thalamic regions that corresponding to different networks. In each labelled pair, the overlapping thalamic voxels of the first (green) and second (blue) nuclei are highlighted in red for the following associated networks. Panel A shows the overlaps of thalamus regions that were associated with the DMN and the bilateral executive networks. Panel B demonstrates the overlaps of thalamic regions that were associated with the lateral and medial visual networks and the dorsal attention network.

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