Thalamus plays a central role in ongoing cortical functioning

Nat Neurosci. 2016 Apr;19(4):533-41. doi: 10.1038/nn.4269.


Several challenges to current views of thalamocortical processing are offered here. Glutamatergic pathways in thalamus and cortex are divided into two distinct classes: driver and modulator. We suggest that driver inputs are the main conduits of information and that modulator inputs modify how driver inputs are processed. Different driver sources reveal two types of thalamic relays: first order relays receive subcortical driver input (for example, retinal input to the lateral geniculate nucleus), whereas higher order relays (for example, pulvinar) receive driver input from layer 5 of cortex and participate in cortico-thalamo-cortical (or transthalamic) circuits. These transthalamic circuits represent an unappreciated aspect of cortical functioning, which I discuss here. Direct corticocortical connections are often paralleled by transthalamic ones. Furthermore, driver inputs to thalamus, both first and higher order, typically arrive via branching axons, and the transthalamic branch often innervates subcortical motor centers, leading to the suggestion that these inputs to thalamus serve as efference copies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Glutamic Acid / physiology
  • Humans
  • Nerve Net / cytology
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Thalamus / cytology
  • Thalamus / physiology*


  • Glutamic Acid