Correlated activation of the thalamocortical network in a simple learning paradigm

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The thalamocortical loop is a key player in sensory processing. We examined the functional interactions among its elements, expressed as cross-correlations between metabolic activity of the barrel cortex, somatosensory thalamic nuclei and posterior parietal cortex, in classical conditioning. In the training stimulation of vibrissae in mice was paired with a tail shock. [14C]-2-Deoxyglucose brain mapping was performed during the first and the final sessions of conditioning (conditioned stimulus + unconditioned stimulus; CS + UCS), in groups that received only the stimulation of vibrissae (conditioned stimulus; CS-only) and in nonstimulated controls (NS). In the CS-only group, the CS evoked the correlated activity of the examined structures during the first session, but in the third session these structures did not act in a correlated manner. Conversely, in the CS + UCS condition correlations among the thalamocortical loop structures activities became stronger during the course of the training. Particularly, the posterior parietal cortex, which controls voluntary deployment of attention, together with the barrel cortex becomes involved in the network of structures with the correlated activity. The results suggest a predominant role for bottom-up processing in the somatosensory pathway at the beginning of conditioning followed by top-down processing. This is consistent with the idea that the thalamocortical loop plays a crucial role in attentional processes.

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