Cortico-Striatal-Thalamic Loop Circuits of the Salience Network: A Central Pathway in Psychiatric Disease and Treatment

Front Syst Neurosci. 2016 Dec 27;10:104. doi: 10.3389/fnsys.2016.00104. eCollection 2016.


The salience network (SN) plays a central role in cognitive control by integrating sensory input to guide attention, attend to motivationally salient stimuli and recruit appropriate functional brain-behavior networks to modulate behavior. Mounting evidence suggests that disturbances in SN function underlie abnormalities in cognitive control and may be a common etiology underlying many psychiatric disorders. Such functional and anatomical abnormalities have been recently apparent in studies and meta-analyses of psychiatric illness using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and voxel-based morphometry (VBM). Of particular importance, abnormal structure and function in major cortical nodes of the SN, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and anterior insula (AI), have been observed as a common neurobiological substrate across a broad spectrum of psychiatric disorders. In addition to cortical nodes of the SN, the network's associated subcortical structures, including the dorsal striatum, mediodorsal thalamus and dopaminergic brainstem nuclei, comprise a discrete regulatory loop circuit. The SN's cortico-striato-thalamo-cortical loop increasingly appears to be central to mechanisms of cognitive control, as well as to a broad spectrum of psychiatric illnesses and their available treatments. Functional imbalances within the SN loop appear to impair cognitive control, and specifically may impair self-regulation of cognition, behavior and emotion, thereby leading to symptoms of psychiatric illness. Furthermore, treating such psychiatric illnesses using invasive or non-invasive brain stimulation techniques appears to modulate SN cortical-subcortical loop integrity, and these effects may be central to the therapeutic mechanisms of brain stimulation treatments in many psychiatric illnesses. Here, we review clinical and experimental evidence for abnormalities in SN cortico-striatal-thalamic loop circuits in major depression, substance use disorders (SUD), anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and eating disorders (ED). We also review emergent therapeutic evidence that novel invasive and non-invasive brain stimulation treatments may exert therapeutic effects by normalizing abnormalities in the SN loop, thereby restoring the capacity for cognitive control. Finally, we consider a series of promising directions for future investigations on the role of SN cortico-striatal-thalamic loop circuits in the pathophysiology and treatment of psychiatric disorders.

Keywords: anxiety disorders; brain stimulation; corticostriatal; depression; repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation; salience network; substance use disorders.

Publication types

  • Review