Thalamocortical contributions to cognitive task activity

Kai Hwang, James M. Shine, Michael W. Cole, Evan Sorenson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Thalamocortical interaction is a ubiquitous functional motif in the mammalian brain. Previously (Hwang et al., 2021), we reported that lesions to network hubs in the human thalamus are associated with multi-domain behavioral impairments in language, memory, and executive functions. Here, we show how task-evoked thalamic activity is organized to support these broad cognitive abilities. We analyzed functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data from human subjects that performed 127 tasks encompassing a broad range of cognitive representations. We first investigated the spatial organization of task-evoked activity and found a basis set of activity patterns evoked to support processing needs of each task. Specifically, the anterior, medial, and posterior-medial thalamus exhibit hub-like activity profiles that are suggestive of broad functional participation. These thalamic task hubs overlapped with network hubs interlinking cortical systems. To further determine the cognitive relevance of thalamic activity and thalamocortical functional connectivity, we built a data-driven thalamocortical model to test whether thalamic activity can be used to predict cortical task activity. The thalamocortical model predicted task-specific cortical activity patterns, and outper-formed comparison models built on cortical, hippocampal, and striatal regions. Simulated lesions to low-dimensional, multi-task thalamic hub regions impaired task activity prediction. This simulation result was further supported by profiles of neuropsychological impairments in human patients with focal thalamic lesions. In summary, our results suggest a general organizational principle of how the human thalamocortical system supports cognitive task activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere81282
StatePublished - Dec 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Immunology and Microbiology(all)


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