The human thalamus is an integrative hub for functional brain networks.

Citation:
Hwang, K, Bertolero M, Liu W, D'Esposito M.  2017.  The human thalamus is an integrative hub for functional brain networks., 2017 Apr 27. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience.

Abstract:

The thalamus is globally connected with distributed cortical regions, yet the functional significance of this extensive thalamocortical connectivity remains largely unknown. By performing graph-theoretic analyses on thalamocortical functional connectivity data collected from human participants, we found that most thalamic subdivisions display network properties capable of integrating multimodal information across diverse cortical functional networks. From a meta-analysis of a large dataset of functional brain imaging experiments, we further found that the thalamus is involved in multiple cognitive functions. Finally, we found that focal thalamic lesions in humans have widespread distal effects, disrupting the modular organization of cortical functional networks. This converging evidence suggests that the human thalamus is a critical hub region that could integrate diverse information being processed throughout the cerebral cortex, as well as maintain the modular structure of cortical functional networks.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTThe thalamus is traditionally viewed as a passive relay station of information from sensory organs or subcortical structures to the cortex. However, the thalamus has extensive connections with the entire cerebral cortex, which can also serve to integrate information processing between cortical regions. In this study, we demonstrate that multiple thalamic subdivisions displays network properties capable of integrating information across multiple functional brain networks. Moreover, the thalamus is engaged by tasks requiring multiple cognitive functions. These findings support the idea that the thalamus is involved in integrating information across cortical networks.