Thalamic mediodorsal nucleus and its participation in spatial working memory processes: comparison with the prefrontal cortex
Frontiers Media SA -- Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience
DOI 10.3389/fnsys.2013.00036
  1. thalamic mediodorsal nucleus
  2. prefrontal cortex
  3. spatial working memory
  4. delayed-response
  5. retrospective information
  6. prospective information

Working memory is a dynamic neural system that includes processes for temporarily maintaining and processing information. Working memory plays a significant role in a variety of cognitive functions, such as thinking, reasoning, decision-making, and language comprehension. Although the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is known to play an important role in working memory, several lines of evidence indicate that the thalamic mediodorsal nucleus (MD) also participates in this process. While monkeys perform spatial working memory tasks, MD neurons exhibit directionally selective delay-period activity, which is considered to be a neural correlate for the temporary maintenance of information in PFC neurons. Studies have also shown that, while most MD neurons maintain prospective motor information, some maintain retrospective sensory information. Thus, the MD plays a greater role in prospective motor aspects of working memory processes than the PFC, which participates more in retrospective aspects. For the performance of spatial working memory tasks, the information provided by a sensory cue needs to be transformed into motor information to give an appropriate response. A population vector analysis using neural activities revealed that, although the transformation of sensory-to-motor information occurred during the delay period in both the PFC and the MD, PFC activities maintained sensory information until the late phase of the delay period, while MD activities initially represented sensory information but then started to represent motor information in the earlier phase of the delay period. These results indicate that long-range neural interactions supported by reciprocal connections between the MD and the PFC could play an important role in the transformation of maintained information in working memory processes.