The organization of the thalamocortical connections of the mediodorsal thalamic nucleus in the rat, related to the ventral forebrain–prefrontal cortex topography

James P. Ray, Joseph L. Price

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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The medial and central segments of the mediodorsal nucleus of the thalamus (MD) receive afferents from the ventral forebrain, including the piriform cortex, the ventral pallidum, and the amygdaloid complex. Because MD is reciprocally interconnected with prefrontal and agranular insular cortical areas, it provides a relay of ventral forebrain activity to these cortical areas. However, there are also direct projections from the piriform cortex and the amygdala to the prefrontal and agranular insular cortices. This study addresses whether this system has a “triangular” organization, such that structures in the ventral forebrain project to interconnected areas in MD and the prefrontal/insular cortex. The thalamocortical projections of MD have been studied in experiments with injections of retrograde tracers into prefrontal or agranular insular cortical areas. In many of the same experiments, projections from the ventral forebrain to MD and to the prefrontal/insular cortex have been demonstrated with anterograde axonal tracers. The connections of the piriform cortex (PC) with MD and the prefrontal/insular cortex form an organized triangular system. The PC projections to the central and medial segments of MD and to the lateral orbital cortex (LO) and the ventral and posterior agranular insular cortices (AIv and AIp) are topographically organized, such that more caudal parts of PC tend to project more medially in MD and more caudally within the orbital/insular cortex. The central and medial portions of MD also send matching, topographically organized projections to LO, AIv and AIp, with more medial parts of MD projecting further caudally. The anterior cortical nucleus of the amygdala (COa) also projects to the dorsal part of the medial segment of MD and to its cortical targets, the medial orbital area (MO) and AIp. The projections of the basal/accessory basal amygdaloid nuclei to MD and to prefrontal cortex, and from MD to amygdaloceptive parts of prefrontal cortex, are not as tightly organized. Amygdalothalamic afferents in MD are concentrated in the dorsal half of the medial segment. Cells in this part of the nucleus project to the amygdaloceptive prelimbic area (PL) and AIp. However, other amygdaloceptive prefrontal areas are connected to parts of MD that do not receive fibers from the amygdala. Ventral pallidal afferents are distributed to all parts of the central and medial segments of MD, overlapping with the fibers from the amygdala and piriform cortex. Fibers from other parts of the pallidum, or related areas such as the substantia nigra, pars reticulata, terminate in the lateral and ventral parts of MD, where they overlap with inputs from the superior colliculus and other brainstem structures. Thus, pallidal or pallidum‐related inputs overlap with other afferents in all parts of MD. © 1992 Wiley‐Liss, Inc.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)167-197
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 8 1992


  • agranular insular cortex
  • amygdala
  • piriform cortex
  • ventral pallidum


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