Top-down control of human motor thalamic neuronal activity during the auditory oddball task

NPJ Parkinsons Dis. 2023 Mar 27;9(1):46. doi: 10.1038/s41531-023-00493-1.


The neurophysiology of selective attention in visual and auditory systems has been studied in animal models but not with single unit recordings in human. Here, we recorded neuronal activity in the ventral intermediate nucleus as well as the ventral oral anterior, and posterior nuclei of the motor thalamus in 25 patients with parkinsonian (n = 6) and non-parkinsonian tremors (n = 19) prior to insertion of deep brain stimulation electrodes while they performed an auditory oddball task. In this task, patients were requested to attend and count the randomly occurring odd or "deviant" tones, ignore the frequent standard tones and report the number of deviant tones at trial completion. The neuronal firing rate decreased compared to baseline during the oddball task. Inhibition was specific to auditory attention as incorrect counting or wrist flicking to the deviant tones did not produce such inhibition. Local field potential analysis showed beta (13-35 Hz) desynchronization in response to deviant tones. Parkinson's disease patients off medications had more beta power than the essential tremor group but less neuronal modulation of beta power to the attended tones, suggesting that dopamine modulates thalamic beta oscillations for selective attention. The current study demonstrated that ascending information to the motor thalamus can be suppressed during auditory attending tasks, providing indirect evidence for the searchlight hypothesis in humans. These results taken together implicate the ventral intermediate nucleus in non-motor cognitive functions, which has implications for the brain circuitry for attention and the pathophysiology of Parkinson's disease.