Drivers from the deep: the contribution of collicular input to thalamocortical processing.

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A traditional view of the thalamus is that it is a relay station which receives sensory input and conveys this information to cortex. This sensory input determines most of the properties of first order thalamic neurons, and so is said to drive, rather than modulate, these neurons. This holds as a rule for first order thalamic nuclei, but in contrast, higher order thalamic nuclei receive much of their driver input back from cerebral cortex. In addition, higher order thalamic neurons receive inputs from subcortical movement-related centers. In the terminology popularized from studies of the sensory system, can we consider these ascending motor inputs to thalamus from subcortical structures to be modulators, subtly influencing the activity of their target neurons, or drivers, dictating the activity of their target neurons? This chapter summarizes relevant evidence from neuronal recording, inactivation, and stimulation of pathways projecting from the superior colliculus through thalamus to cerebral cortex. The study concludes that many inputs to the higher order nuclei of the thalamus from subcortical oculomotor areas - from the superior colliculus and probably other midbrain and pontine regions - should be regarded as motor drivers analogous to the sensory drivers at the first order thalamic nuclei. These motor drivers at the thalamus are viewed as being at the top of a series of feedback loops that provide information on impending actions, just as sensory drivers provide information about the external environment.





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Wurtz, Robert H, Marc A Sommer and James Cavanaugh (2005). Drivers from the deep: the contribution of collicular input to thalamocortical processing. Prog Brain Res, 149. pp. 207–225. 10.1016/S0079-6123(05)49015-9 Retrieved from

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Marc A. Sommer

Professor of Biomedical Engineering

We study circuits for cognition. Using a combination of neurophysiology and biomedical engineering, we focus on the interaction between brain areas during visual perception, decision-making, and motor planning. Specific projects include the role of frontal cortex in metacognition, the role of cerebellar-frontal circuits in action timing, the neural basis of "good enough" decision-making (satisficing), and the neural mechanisms of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

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