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The Cognitive Thalamus as a gateway to mental representations

Wolff, Mathieu and Vann, Seralynne D. 2019. The Cognitive Thalamus as a gateway to mental representations. Journal of Neuroscience 39 (1) , pp. 3-14. 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0479-18.2018

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Historically, the thalamus has been viewed as little more than a relay, simply transferring information to key players of the cast, the cortex and hippocampus, without providing any unique functional contribution. In recent years, evidence from multiple laboratories researching different thalamic nuclei has contradicted this idea of the thalamus as a passive structure. Dated models of thalamic functions are being pushed aside, revealing a greater and far more complex contribution of the thalamus for cognition. In this Viewpoint, we show how recent data support novel views of thalamic functions that emphasize integrative roles in cognition, ranging from learning and memory to flexible adaption. We propose that these apparently separate cognitive functions may, in fact, be supported by a more general role in shaping mental representations. Several features of thalamocortical circuits are consistent with this suggested role and we highlight how divergent and convergent thalamocortical and corticothalamic pathways may complement each other to support these functions. Furthermore, the role of the thalamus for subcortical integration is highlighted as a key mechanism for maintaining and updating representations. Finally, we discuss future areas of research and stress the importance of incorporating new experimental findings into existing knowledge to continue developing thalamic models. The presence of thalamic pathology in a number of neurological conditions reinforces the need to better understand the role of this region in cognition.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Psychology
Publisher: Society for Neuroscience
ISSN: 1529-2401
Funders: Wellcome Trust
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 13 November 2018
Date of Acceptance: 28 October 2018
Last Modified: 16 Apr 2019 15:40

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