Paraffin-embedded blocks from the thalamus of 9 control patients, 9 moderately disabled, 12 severely disabled, and 10 vegetative head-injured patients assessed using the Glasgow Outcome Scale and identified from the Department of Neuropathology archive. Neurons, astrocytes, macrophages, and activated microglia were differentiated by Luxol fast blue/cresyl violet, GFAP, CD68, and CR3/43 staining and stereological techniques used to estimate cell number in a 28-μm-thick coronal section. Counts were made in subnuclei of the mediodorsal, lateral posterior, and ventral posterior nuclei, the intralaminar nuclei, and the related internal lamina. Neuronal loss occurred from mediodorsal parvocellularis, rostral center medial, central lateral and paracentral nuclei in moderately disabled patients; and from mediodorsal magnocellularis, caudal center medial, rhomboid, and parafascicular nuclei in severely disabled patients; and all of the above and the centre median nucleus in vegetative patients. Neuronal loss occurred primarily from cognitive and executive function nuclei, a lesser loss from somatosensory nuclei and the least loss from limbic motor nuclei. There was an increase in the number of reactive astrocytes, activated microglia, and macrophages with increasing severity of injury. The study provides novel quantitative evidence for differential neuronal loss, with survival after human head injury, from thalamic nuclei associated with different aspects of cortical activation.