Is the "nonspecific" thalamus still "nonspecific"?

G. Macchi, M. Bentivoglio


The classical concept of "nonspecific" thalamus, as distinguished from the principal thalamic nuclei (i.e. the primary sensory, motor and limbic relays) is here briefly revisited in the light of anatomical investigations performed in the last decades, and primarily those based on tract tracing techniques. Altogether these data pointed out that the so-called "nonspecific" thalamus is composed by a heterogeneous collection of nuclear masses, which display not only species differences, but also marked internuclear variations in their cytological and neurochemical features, connections, areal and laminar distribution upon the cortex, and functional properties. Thus, the "nonspecific" thalamus exerts a modulatory role on cortical activity, chiefly regulated at the intrathalamic level by the interplay between the thalamic reticular nucleus and the interneurons and projection neurons of the dorsal thalamus. However, each of the components that have been traditionally considered as "nonspecific" also subserves selective roles in the transfer of different kinds of information from the thalamus to the cerebral cortex and basal ganglia.

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