Bypassing Primary Sensory Cortices—A Direct Thalamocortical Pathway for Transmitting Salient Sensory Information

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Detection and appropriate reaction to sudden and intense events happening in the sensory environment is crucial for survival. By combining Bayesian model selection with dynamic causal modeling of functional magnetic resonance imaging data, a novel analysis approach that allows inferring the causality between neural activities in different brain areas, we demonstrate that salient sensory information reaches the multimodal cortical areas responsible for its detection directly from the thalamus, without being first processed in primary and secondary sensory-specific areas. This direct thalamocortical transmission of multimodal salient information is parallel to the processing of finer stimulus attributes, which are transmitted in a modality-specific fashion from the thalamus to the relevant primary sensory areas. Such direct thalamocortical connections bypassing primary sensory cortices provide a fast and efficient way for transmitting information from subcortical structures to multimodal cortical areas, to allow the early detection of salient events and, thereby, trigger immediate and appropriate behavior.

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