The Pulvinar Regulates Information Transmission Between Cortical Areas Based on Attention Demands

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Science  10 Aug 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6095, pp. 753-756
DOI: 10.1126/science.1223082

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The Conductor in the Thalamus

The pulvinar is the largest thalamic nucleus in the brain but its functions remain unclear. The pulvinar is ideally positioned to synchronize activity across the visual cortex. Saalmann et al. (p. 753) combined diffusion tensor imaging with multi-electrode recordings from three different brain areas in monkeys to probe thalamo-cortical interactions during visual attention. The pulvinar was found to play a vital role in attention by routing behaviorally relevant information across the visual cortex.


Selective attention mechanisms route behaviorally relevant information through large-scale cortical networks. Although evidence suggests that populations of cortical neurons synchronize their activity to preferentially transmit information about attentional priorities, it is unclear how cortical synchrony across a network is accomplished. Based on its anatomical connectivity with the cortex, we hypothesized that the pulvinar, a thalamic nucleus, regulates cortical synchrony. We mapped pulvino-cortical networks within the visual system, using diffusion tensor imaging, and simultaneously recorded spikes and field potentials from these interconnected network sites in monkeys performing a visuospatial attention task. The pulvinar synchronized activity between interconnected cortical areas according to attentional allocation, suggesting a critical role for the thalamus not only in attentional selection but more generally in regulating information transmission across the visual cortex.

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