Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Thalamus


Astronomers and physicists noticed centuries ago that visual spatial resolution is higher for dark than light stimuli, but the neuronal mechanisms for this perceptual asymmetry remain unknown. Here we demonstrate that the asymmetry is caused by a neuronal nonlinearity in the early visual pathway. We show that neurons driven by darks (OFF neurons) increase their responses roughly linearly with luminance decrements, independent of the background luminance. However, neurons driven by lights (ON neurons) saturate their responses with small increases in luminance and need bright backgrounds to approach the linearity of OFF neurons. We show that, as a consequence of this difference in linearity, receptive fields are larger in ON than OFF thalamic neurons, and cortical neurons are more strongly driven by darks than lights at low spatial frequencies. This ON/OFF asymmetry in linearity could be demonstrated in the visual cortex of cats, monkeys, and humans and in the cat visual thalamus. Furthermore, in the cat visual thalamus, we show that the neuronal nonlinearity is present at the ON receptive field center of ON-center neurons and ON receptive field surround of OFF-center neurons, suggesting an origin at the level of the photoreceptor. These results demonstrate a fundamental difference in visual processing between ON and OFF channels and reveal a competitive advantage for OFF neurons over ON neurons at low spatial frequencies, which could be important during cortical development when retinal images are blurred by immature optics in infant eyes.

Concepts: Optics, Visual system, Receptive field, Thalamus, Photoreceptor cell, Brain, Retina, Cerebral cortex


The primate visual system achieves remarkable visual object recognition performance even in brief presentations, and under changes to object exemplar, geometric transformations, and background variation (a.k.a. core visual object recognition). This remarkable performance is mediated by the representation formed in inferior temporal (IT) cortex. In parallel, recent advances in machine learning have led to ever higher performing models of object recognition using artificial deep neural networks (DNNs). It remains unclear, however, whether the representational performance of DNNs rivals that of the brain. To accurately produce such a comparison, a major difficulty has been a unifying metric that accounts for experimental limitations, such as the amount of noise, the number of neural recording sites, and the number of trials, and computational limitations, such as the complexity of the decoding classifier and the number of classifier training examples. In this work, we perform a direct comparison that corrects for these experimental limitations and computational considerations. As part of our methodology, we propose an extension of “kernel analysis” that measures the generalization accuracy as a function of representational complexity. Our evaluations show that, unlike previous bio-inspired models, the latest DNNs rival the representational performance of IT cortex on this visual object recognition task. Furthermore, we show that models that perform well on measures of representational performance also perform well on measures of representational similarity to IT, and on measures of predicting individual IT multi-unit responses. Whether these DNNs rely on computational mechanisms similar to the primate visual system is yet to be determined, but, unlike all previous bio-inspired models, that possibility cannot be ruled out merely on representational performance grounds.

Concepts: Visual system, Performance, Thalamus, Neural network, Artificial neural network, Nervous system, Artificial intelligence, Brain


Learning to read is known to result in a reorganization of the developing cerebral cortex. In this longitudinal resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging study in illiterate adults, we show that only 6 months of literacy training can lead to neuroplastic changes in the mature brain. We observed that literacy-induced neuroplasticity is not confined to the cortex but increases the functional connectivity between the occipital lobe and subcortical areas in the midbrain and the thalamus. Individual rates of connectivity increase were significantly related to the individual decoding skill gains. These findings crucially complement current neurobiological concepts of normal and impaired literacy acquisition.

Concepts: Functional illiteracy, Thalamus, Magnetic resonance imaging, Knowledge, Human brain, Cerebrum, Cerebral cortex, Brain


Stimuli associated with high rewards evoke stronger neuronal activity than stimuli associated with lower rewards in many brain regions. It is not well understood how these reward effects influence activity in sensory cortices that represent low-level stimulus features. Here, we investigated the effects of reward information in the primary visual cortex (area V1) of monkeys. We found that the reward value of a stimulus relative to the value of other stimuli is a good predictor of V1 activity. Relative value biases the competition between stimuli, just as has been shown for selective attention. The neuronal latency of this reward value effect in V1 was similar to the latency of attentional influences. Moreover, V1 neurons with a strong value effect also exhibited a strong attention effect, which implies that relative value and top-down attention engage overlapping, if not identical, neuronal selection mechanisms. Our findings demonstrate that the effects of reward value reach down to the earliest sensory processing levels of the cerebral cortex and imply that theories about the effects of reward coding and top-down attention on visual representations should be unified.

Concepts: Retinotopy, Thalamus, Cerebellum, Neuron, Human brain, Cerebrum, Cerebral cortex, Brain


INTRODUCTION: Patients often complain about sensory symptoms that appear to the doctor as harmless, and reassurances are often given. Sensory strokes may easily be ignored. CASE PRESENTATION: A 48-year-old Caucasian woman with insulin-dependent diabetes and hyperlipidemia experienced symptoms that progressed within hours to a complete left-sided hemisensory syndrome. This was caused by a lacunar infarct in the ventral posterior tier nuclei of the right thalamus. A few days later she gradually developed an almost identical, but incomplete hemisensory syndrome on the opposite side caused by a corresponding lacune in the left thalamus. Severe persistent and paroxysmal pain on both sides of the body became disabling. CONCLUSION: Small strokes only affecting the somatosensory system should not be underestimated. Neuropathic pain may result. Probably unique in the present case is the demonstration of bilateral thalamic pain secondary to two almost identical thalamic infarcts. Small vessel disease (microatheroma or lipohyalinosis) was the most likely cause of the lacunes. One can only speculate if there was an occlusion in two separate thalamic perforators, or in a single dominant artery supplying the bilateral thalami.

Concepts: Causality, Somatosensory system, Atherosclerosis, Sensory system, Myocardial infarction, Thalamus, Stroke, Lacunar stroke


In humans recognition memory deficits, a typical feature of diencephalic amnesia, have been tentatively linked to mediodorsal thalamic nucleus (MD) damage. Animal studies have occasionally investigated the role of the MD in single-item recognition, but have not systematically analyzed its involvement in other recognition memory processes. In Experiment 1 rats with bilateral excitotoxic lesions in the MD or the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) were tested in tasks that assessed single-item recognition (novel object preference), associative recognition memory (object-in-place), and recency discrimination (recency memory task). Experiment 2 examined the functional importance of the interactions between the MD and mPFC using disconnection techniques. Unilateral excitotoxic lesions were placed in both the MD and the mPFC in either the same (MD + mPFC Ipsi) or opposite hemispheres (MD + mPFC Contra group). Bilateral lesions in the MD or mPFC impaired object-in-place and recency memory tasks, but had no effect on novel object preference. In Experiment 2 the MD + mPFC Contra group was significantly impaired in the object-in-place and recency memory tasks compared with the MD + mPFC Ipsi group, but novel object preference was intact. Thus, connections between the MD and mPFC are critical for recognition memory when the discriminations involve associative or recency information. However, the rodent MD is not necessary for single-item recognition memory.

Concepts: Frontal lobe, Cerebrum, Thalamus, Medial dorsal nucleus, Brain, Prefrontal cortex


BACKGROUND: Coloured-hearing (CH) synesthesia is a perceptual phenomenon in which an acoustic stimulus (the inducer) initiates a concurrent colour perception (the concurrent). Individuals with CH synesthesia “see” colours when hearing tones, words, or music; this specific phenomenon suggesting a close relationship between auditory and visual representations. To date, it is still unknown whether the perception of colours is associated with a modulation of brain functions in the inducing brain area, namely in the auditory-related cortex and associated brain areas. In addition, there is an on-going debate as to whether attention to the inducer is necessarily required for eliciting a visual concurrent, or whether the latter can emerge in a pre-attentive fashion. RESULTS: By using the EEG technique in the context of a pre-attentive mismatch negativity (MMN) paradigm, we show that the binding of tones and colours in CH synesthetes is associated with increased MMN amplitudes in response to deviant tones supposed to induce novel concurrent colour perceptions. Most notably, the increased MMN amplitudes we revealed in the CH synesthetes were associated with stronger intracerebral current densities originating from the auditory cortex, parietal cortex, and ventral visual areas. CONCLUSIONS: The automatic binding of tones and colours in CH synesthetes is accompanied by an early pre-attentive process recruiting the auditory cortex, inferior and superior parietal lobules, as well as ventral occipital areas.

Concepts: Sense, Thalamus, Perception, Color, Qualia, Philosophy of perception, Brain, Cerebrum


Tinnitus can occur when damage to the peripheral auditory system leads to spontaneous brain activity that is interpreted as sound [1, 2]. Many abnormalities of brain activity are associated with tinnitus, but it is unclear how these relate to the phantom sound itself, as opposed to predisposing factors or┬ásecondary consequences [3]. Demonstrating “core” tinnitus correlates (processes that are both necessary and sufficient for tinnitus perception) requires high-precision recordings of neural activity combined with a behavioral paradigm in which the perception of tinnitus is manipulated and accurately reported by the subject. This has been previously impossible in animal and human research. Here we present extensive intracranial recordings from an awake, behaving tinnitus patient during short-term modifications in perceived tinnitus loudness after acoustic stimulation (residual inhibition) [4], permitting robust characterization of core tinnitus processes. As anticipated, we observed tinnitus-linked low-frequency (delta) oscillations [5-9], thought to be triggered by low-frequency bursting in the thalamus [10, 11]. Contrary to expectation, these delta changes extended far beyond circumscribed auditory cortical regions to encompass almost all of auditory cortex, plus large parts of temporal, parietal, sensorimotor, and limbic cortex. In discrete auditory, parahippocampal, and inferior parietal “hub” regions [12], these delta oscillations interacted with middle-frequency (alpha) and high-frequency (beta and gamma) activity, resulting in a coherent system of tightly coupled oscillations associated with high-level functions including memory and perception.

Concepts: Mind, Primary auditory cortex, Auditory system, Thalamus, Brain, Psychology, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum


The last known Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus)-aka the thylacine-died in 1936. Because its natural behavior was never scientifically documented, we are left to infer aspects of its behavior from museum specimens and historical recollections of bushmen. Recent advances in brain imaging have made it possible to scan postmortem specimens of a wide range of animals, even more than a decade old. Any thylacine brain, however, would be more than 100 years old. Here, we show that it is possible to reconstruct white matter tracts in two thylacine brains. For functional interpretation, we compare to the white matter reconstructions of the brains of two Tasmanian devils (Sarcophilus harrisii). We reconstructed the cortical projection zones of the basal ganglia and major thalamic nuclei. The basal ganglia reconstruction showed a more modularized pattern in the cortex of the thylacine, while the devil cortex was dominated by the putamen. Similarly, the thalamic projections had a more orderly topography in the thylacine than the devil. These results are consistent with theories of brain evolution suggesting that larger brains are more modularized. Functionally, the thylacine’s brain may have had relatively more cortex devoted to planning and decision-making, which would be consistent with a predatory ecological niche versus the scavenging niche of the devil.

Concepts: Thalamus, Marsupial, Dasyuromorphs, Basal ganglia, Dingo, Dasyuromorphia, Tasmanian Devil, Tasmania


Central thalamus plays a critical role in forebrain arousal and organized behavior. However, network-level mechanisms that link its activity to brain state remain enigmatic. Here, we combined optogenetics, fMRI, electrophysiology, and video-EEG monitoring to characterize the central thalamus-driven global brain networks responsible for switching brain state. 40 and 100 Hz stimulations of central thalamus caused widespread activation of forebrain, including frontal cortex, sensorimotor cortex, and striatum, and transitioned the brain to a state of arousal in asleep rats. In contrast, 10 Hz stimulation evoked significantly less activation of forebrain, inhibition of sensory cortex, and behavioral arrest. To investigate possible mechanisms underlying the frequency-dependent cortical inhibition, we performed recordings in zona incerta, where 10, but not 40, Hz stimulation evoked spindle-like oscillations. Importantly, suppressing incertal activity during 10 Hz central thalamus stimulation reduced the evoked cortical inhibition. These findings identify key brain-wide dynamics underlying central thalamus arousal regulation.

Concepts: Electroencephalography, Human brain, Neuroscience, Central nervous system, Thalamus, Brain, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum