Letter | Published:

Thalamic amplification of cortical connectivity sustains attentional control

Nature volume 545, pages 219223 (11 May 2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

Although interactions between the thalamus and cortex are critical for cognitive function1,2,3, the exact contribution of the thalamus to these interactions remains unclear. Recent studies have shown diverse connectivity patterns across the thalamus4,5, but whether this diversity translates to thalamic functions beyond relaying information to or between cortical regions6 is unknown. Here we show, by investigating the representation of two rules used to guide attention in the mouse prefrontal cortex (PFC), that the mediodorsal thalamus sustains these representations without relaying categorical information. Specifically, mediodorsal input amplifies local PFC connectivity, enabling rule-specific neural sequences to emerge and thereby maintain rule representations. Consistent with this notion, broadly enhancing PFC excitability diminishes rule specificity and behavioural performance, whereas enhancing mediodorsal excitability improves both. Overall, our results define a previously unknown principle in neuroscience; thalamic control of functional cortical connectivity. This function, which is dissociable from categorical information relay, indicates that the thalamus has a much broader role in cognition than previously thought.

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Acknowledgements

We thank J. A. Movshon, D. J. Heeger, X.-J. Wang, M. A. Wilson, C. D. Brody and E. K. Miller for helpful discussions. L.I.S. is supported by a NARSAD Young Investigator award and R.D.W. by a fellowship from the Swiss National Science Foundation. M.N. is supported by a JSPS fellowship. M.M.H. is supported by grants from NIMH, NINDS, Brain and Behavior, Sloan and Klingenstein Foundations as well as the Human Frontiers Science Program.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. NYU Neuroscience Institute, Department of Neuroscience and Physiology, NYU Langone Medical Center, New York, New York 10016, USA

    • L. Ian Schmitt
    • , Ralf D. Wimmer
    • , Miho Nakajima
    • , Michael Happ
    • , Sima Mofakham
    •  & Michael M. Halassa
  2. Center for Neural Science, New York University, New York, New York 10016, USA

    • Michael M. Halassa

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Contributions

L.I.S. designed experiments, performed behavioural studies, analysed the physiological data and contributed to writing the manuscript. R.D.W. designed the 4AFC task, performed the physiological recordings, analysed behavioural data and contributed to writing the manuscript. M.N. validated viral tools, performed tracing studies and contributed to behavioural training. M.H. assisted L.I.S. with analysis. S.M. performed the modelling. M.M.H. conceived experiments and analyses, interpreted the data and wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael M. Halassa.

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains Supplementary Table 1, Supplementary Discussions 1-5, Supplementary Notes 1-2 and Supplementary References.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature22073

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