Gully A.P.C. Burns

The connectional organization of the cortico-thalamic system of the cat

TitleThe connectional organization of the cortico-thalamic system of the cat
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication1999
AuthorsJ. W. Scannell, G. A. Burns, C. C. Hilgetag, M. A. O'Neil, and M. P. Young
JournalCereb Cortex

Data on connections between the areas of the cerebral cortex and nuclei of the thalamus are too complicated to analyse with naked intuition. Indeed, the complexity of connection data is one of the major challenges facing neuroanatomy. Recently, systematic methods have been developed and applied to the analysis of the connectivity in the cerebral cortex. These approaches have shed light on the gross organization of the cortical network, have made it possible to test systematically theories of cortical organization, and have guided new electrophysiological studies. This paper extends the approach to investigate the organization of the entire cortico-thalamic network. An extensive collation of connection tracing studies revealed approximately 1500 extrinsic connections between the cortical areas and thalamic nuclei of the cat cerebral hemisphere. Around 850 connections linked 53 cortical areas with each other, and around 650 connections linked the cortical areas with 42 thalamic nuclei. Non-metric multidimensional scaling, optimal set analysis and non-parametric cluster analysis were used to study global connectivity and the 'place' of individual structures within the overall scheme. Thalamic nuclei and cortical areas were in intimate connectional association. Connectivity defined four major thalamo-cortical systems. These included three broadly hierarchical sensory or sensory/motor systems (visual and auditory systems and a single system containing both somatosensory and motor structures). The highest stations of these sensory/motor systems were associated with a fourth processing system composed of prefrontal, cingulate, insular and parahippocampal cortex and associated thalamic nuclei (the 'fronto-limbic system'). The association between fronto-limbic and somato-motor systems was particularly close.