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Learning objectives

After completing this study unit you will be able to:

  1. Understand the location, anatomy and structure of the thalamus.
  2. Learn the important relations and functions of the thalamus.

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The thalamus is the largest subcortical gray mass of the central nervous system. It is part of the diencephalon (and its main constituent) along with other structures such as the subthalamus, epithalamus and hypothalamus. It is positioned above the midbrain (mesencephalon), which affords it a strategic position for integrating information that travels from the cerebral cortex to the rest of the nervous system and vice versa.

The thalamus has an anterior and posterior pole and four surfaces. The thalamus is bounded anteriorly by the interventricular foramen (of Montro) and posteriorly by the atrium of the lateral ventricle. Medially, the thalamus builds the lateral wall of the third ventricle, while laterally it closely relates with the posterior limb of the internal capsule. The dorsal surface of the thalamus contributes to the formation of the floor of the lateral ventricle. The ventral surface of the thalamus is limited by the hypothalamic sulcus that separates the hypothalamus and thalamus.

The thalamus has many important functions, but in general, it is considered to be a relay station that relays information between different subcortical areas and the cerebral cortex.

The following video will provide a comprehensive overview of the gross anatomy of the thalamus and the related subcortical structures.

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Browse atlas

Take a closer look at the thalamus in the gallery below. 


Key points about the thalamus
Definition The thalamus is an ovoid, paired gray matter structure, found in the center of the brain, just superior to the brainstem
Borders Anterior: Interventricular foramen (of Monro)
: Atrium of lateral ventricle
: Third ventricle
: Posterior limb of internal capsule
: Floor of lateral ventricle, stria medullaris
: Hypothalamic sulcus on the lateral wall of third ventricle (separates it from hypothalamus)
External features Stratum zonale, external medullary lamina, pulvinar of thalamus, medial geniculate body and lateral geniculate body
Functions Relaying limbic, sensory and motor signals between the cerebral cortex and rest of nervous system;
Regulating consciousness, sleep, alertness

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