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The anterior thalamic nuclei: core components of a tripartite episodic memory system

Abstract

Standard models of episodic memory focus on hippocampal–parahippocampal interactions, with the neocortex supplying sensory information and providing a final repository of mnemonic representations. However, recent advances have shown that other regions make distinct and equally critical contributions to memory. In particular, there is growing evidence that the anterior thalamic nuclei have a number of key cognitive functions that support episodic memory. In this article, we describe these findings and argue for a core, tripartite memory system, comprising a ‘temporal lobe’ stream (centred on the hippocampus) and a ‘medial diencephalic’ stream (centred on the anterior thalamic nuclei) that together act on shared cortical areas. We demonstrate how these distributed brain regions form complementary and necessary partnerships in episodic memory formation.

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Fig. 1: Location of the anterior thalamic nuclei.
Fig. 2: Principal connections of the anterior thalamic nuclei.
Fig. 3: Proposed anterior thalamic participation in cognition.
Fig. 4: A core, tripartite episodic memory system.

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Acknowledgements

J.P.A. and S.M.O’M. are supported in the work described here by the Wellcome Trust (103722/Z14/Z). We thank S. Commins, S. Martin, A. Nelson and C. Ranganath for very helpful feedback on a prior version of the manuscript. We also thank M. M. Jankowski for assistance with Fig. 1.

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Aggleton, J.P., O’Mara, S.M. The anterior thalamic nuclei: core components of a tripartite episodic memory system. Nat Rev Neurosci (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41583-022-00591-8

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