Advances in understanding mechanisms of thalamic relays in cognition and behavior.
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The main impetus for a mini-symposium on corticothalamic interrelationships was the recent number of studies highlighting the role of the thalamus in aspects of cognition beyond sensory processing. The thalamus contributes to a range of basic cognitive behaviors that include learning and memory, inhibitory control, decision-making, and the control of visual orienting responses. Its functions are deeply intertwined with those of the better studied cortex, although the principles governing its coordination with the cortex remain opaque, particularly in higher-level aspects of cognition. How should the thalamus be viewed in the context of the rest of the brain? Although its role extends well beyond relaying of sensory information from the periphery, the main function of many of its subdivisions does appear to be that of a relay station, transmitting neural signals primarily to the cerebral cortex from a number of brain areas. In cognition, its main contribution may thus be to coordinate signals between diverse regions of the telencephalon, including the neocortex, hippocampus, amygdala, and striatum. This central coordination is further subject to considerable extrinsic control, for example, inhibition from the basal ganglia, zona incerta, and pretectal regions, and chemical modulation from ascending neurotransmitter systems. What follows is a brief review on the role of the thalamus in aspects of cognition and behavior, focusing on a summary of the topics covered in a mini-symposium held at the Society for Neuroscience meeting, 2014.