The Cognitive Thalamus – Superb ebook available for download from Frontiers

Frontiers in Systems Neuroscience did a superb special issue on the cognitive functions of the thalamus recently. It was edited by Yuri B Saalmann and Sabine Kastner.

It is also now available as a very handsome ebook.

Here’s the summary:

Cognitive processing is commonly conceptualized as being restricted to the cerebral cortex. Accordingly, electrophysiology, neuroimaging and lesion studies involving human and animal subjects have almost exclusively focused on defining roles for cerebral cortical areas in cognition. Roles for the thalamus in cognition have been largely ignored despite the fact that the extensive connectivity between the thalamus and cerebral cortex gives rise to a closely coupled thalamo-cortical system. However, in recent years, growing interest in the thalamus as much more than a passive sensory structure, as well as methodological advances such as high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging of the thalamus and improved electrode targeting to subregions of thalamic nuclei using electrical stimulation and diffusion tensor imaging, have fostered research into thalamic contributions to cognition. Evidence suggests that behavioral context modulates processing in primary sensory, or first-order, thalamic nuclei (for example, the lateral geniculate and ventral posterior nuclei), allowing attentional filtering of incoming sensory information at an early stage of brain processing. Behavioral context appears to more strongly influence higher-order thalamic nuclei (for example, the pulvinar and mediodorsal nucleus), which receive major input from the cortex rather than the sensory periphery. Such higher-order thalamic nuclei have been shown to regulate information transmission in frontal and higher-order sensory cortex according to cognitive demands. This Research Topic aims to bring together neuroscientists who study different parts of the thalamus, particularly thalamic nuclei other than the primary sensory relays, and highlight the thalamic contributions to attention, memory, reward processing, decision-making, and language. By doing so, an emphasis is also placed on neural mechanisms common to many, if not all, of these cognitive operations, such as thalamo-cortical interactions and modulatory influences from sources in the brainstem and basal ganglia. The overall view that emerges is that the thalamus is a vital node in brain networks supporting cognition.

And the table of contents:

05 The cognitive thalamus: Yuri B. Saalmann and Sabine Kastner
07 A role of the human thalamus in predicting the perceptual consequences
of eye movements: Florian Ostendorf, Daniela Liebermann and Christoph J. Ploner
19 Cognitive control of movement via the cerebellar-recipient thalamus
Vincent Prevosto and Marc A. Sommer
27 Functional roles of the thalamus for language capacities: Fabian Klostermann, Lea K. Krugel and Felicitas Ehlen
35 Neural signal for counteracting pre-action bias in the centromedian
thalamic nucleus: Takafumi Minamimoto, Yukiko Hori, Ko Yamanaka and Minoru Kimura
46 The role of the anterior, mediodorsal, and parafascicular thalamus in
instrumental conditioning: Laura A. Bradfield, Genevra Hart and Bernard W. Balleine
61 The anterior thalamus provides a subcortical circuit supporting memory and spatial navigation: Maciej M. Jankowski, Kim C. Ronnqvist, Marian Tsanov, Seralynne D. Vann, Nicholas F. Wright Jonathan T. Erichsen, John P. Aggleton and Shane M. O’Mara
73 ABL1 in thalamus is associated with safety but not fear learning: Mouna R. Habib, Dan A. Ganea, Ira K. Katz and Raphael Lamprecht
81 What does the mediodorsal thalamus do?: Anna S. Mitchell and Subhojit Chakraborty
100 Mediodorsal thalamus and cognition in non-human primates: Mark G. Baxter
105 Thalamic mediodorsal nucleus and its participation in spatial working memory
processes: comparison with the prefrontal cortex: Shintaro Funahashi
118 Intralaminar and medial thalamic influence on cortical synchrony, information
transmission and cognition: Yuri B. Saalmann

So – go ahead and download the very handsome ebook!

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Humans are terrible judges of their own speed of thought

Originally posted on Quartz:

As inquisitive beings, we are constantly questioning and quantifying the speed of various things. With a fair degree of accuracy, scientists have quantified the speed of light, the speed of sound, the speed at which the earth revolves around the sun, the speed at which hummingbirds beat their wings, the average speed of continental drift….

These values are all well-characterized. But what about the speed of thought? It’s a challenging question that’s not easily answerable—but we can give it a shot.

First, some thoughts on thought

To quantify the speed of anything, one needs to identify its beginning and end. For our purposes, a “thought” will be defined as the mental activities engaged from the moment sensory information is received to the moment an action is initiated. This definition necessarily excludes many experiences and processes one might consider to be “thoughts.”

Here, a “thought” includes processes related…

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Napoleon was utterly opposed to torture – my letter in the Financial Times today

I have a letter in the Financial Times today:

Simon Schama misses one important aspect of Napoleon’s legacy. He was utterly opposed to the practice of torture. He wrote in 1798 that “The barbarous custom of having men beaten who are suspected of having important secrets to reveal must be abolished. It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile. The poor wretches say anything that comes into their mind and what they think the interrogator wishes to know”.

Would that state security services remember, and keep remembering, this lesson from history.

Bonaparte, N. (1798). On the subject of torture, in a letter to Louis Alexandre Berthier (11 November 1798), published in “Correspondence Napoleon” edited by Henri Plon (1861), Vol. V, No. 3606, p. 128.


Shane O’Mara | Professor of Experimental Brain Research and Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator | Institute of Neuroscience | Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Blog | Twitter | LinkedIn

Forthcoming book:

Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation (Amazon) or from Harvard University Press

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Why some people can get away with so little sleep

Originally posted on Quartz:

In a crazy sleep experiment a few years ago, I reduced my sleep from eight hours to a little more than four. I managed to do it by following a polyphasic sleep schedule, where I got a few hours of sleep at night and took short naps during the day. I was quite proud of myself—but then I discovered that some people can get by with even less sleep, without major difficulties.

For many decades scientists have been aware that some humans—by one estimate as much as 1% of the population—seem to be resistant to sleep deprivation. Despite their drastically reduced hours of sleep, these exceptional people show no apparent symptoms of sleep deprivation and often lead healthy, successful lives. From Winston Churchill to Marissa Mayer, there are plenty of examples of successful people who manage to get by on four hours of sleep a night. But how?

The Enigma of Sleep

Despite our ability to…

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Why not even exercise will undo the harm of sitting all day—and what you can do about it

Originally posted on Quartz:

A large review recently published in The Journal of the National Cancer Institute confirms what we’ve been hearing for years: Sitting can be fatal.

It’s been linked to cancerdiabetes, and cardiovascular disease. In this latest meta-analysis, Daniela Schmid and Michael F. Leitzmann of the University of Regensburg in Germany analyzed 43 observational studies, amounting to more than 4 million people’s answers to questions about their sitting behavior and cancer incidences. The researchers examined close to 70,000 cancer cases and found that sitting is associated with a 24% increased risk of colon cancer, a 32% increased risk of endometrial cancer, and a 21% increased risk of lung cancer.

The really bad news: You can’t exercise away the habit’s harmful effects. “Adjustment for physical activity did not affect the positive association between sedentary behavior and cancer,” the authors write. Even participants who achieved the daily recommended levels of physical activity were at the same risk as those…

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The silly reason men work (or pretend to work) extremely long hours

Originally posted on Quartz:

The culture of working enormously long hours is ingrained in many workplaces. But for men in particular, it also has a lot to do with comparing themselves to peers. When men don’t work as much as colleagues and friends, they report being unhappy and shift their work schedule to match or better them, according to a new working paper from researchers at Maastricht University and Erasmus University in the Netherlands.

And that peer-matching isn’t about being as productive. It’s all about perceived status. The authors call it “conspicuous work.” The study looks at more than a decade of data from working men in the Netherlands whose peers generally also worked. They had data on people’s work hours, their perception of their peer’s hours, and their self-reported happiness.

The first major finding, that people’s work hours scale with their peers, could be explained by a few possible things. Working with others is more productive and pleasant than working alone, so…

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Long-term cognitive dysfunction in the rat following docetaxel treatment is ameliorated by the phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitor, rolipram.

Incidence of commonly experienced non-haematol...

Incidence of commonly experienced non-haematological adverse effects reported for treatment with docetaxel. Data from 40 phase II and phase III studies (n=2045) with patients undergoing a one-hour infusion of 100 mg/m 2 docetaxel once every three weeks. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Long-term cognitive dysfunction in the rat following docetaxel treatment is ameliorated by the phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitor, rolipram.

Our latest paper [download] focuses on chemobrain – the mental fog or fuzziness that can accompany and follow chemotherapy.

Behav Brain Res. 2015 May 1;290:84-89. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2015.04.044. [Epub ahead of print]

Callaghan CK, O’Mara SM.

Clinical studies report evidence of long-term cognitive and other deficits following adjunctive chemotherapy treatment, which is often termed “chemobrain” or “chemo-fog“. The neurological bases of these impairments are poorly understood. Here, we hypothesize that systemic chemotherapy treatment causes long-term neurobehavioral deficits, and that these deficits are reversed by manipulation of cAMP by the PDE4 inhibitor, rolipram. Male han Wistar rats were treated with docetaxel (an adjunctive chemotherapeutic agent (1mg/kg i.v.)) or control solution (ethanol/Tween 20/0.9% Saline – 5/5/90) once per week for 4 weeks. They were allowed to recover for 4 weeks, administration of rolipram (0.5mg/kg po) or vehicle (maple syrup) then began and continued daily for 4 weeks. At the end of the treatment regime animals were tested for spatial and recognition memory deficits with the object exploration task and for depressive- and anxiety-like behavior in the forced swim test (FST) and open field exploration. We report docetaxel treatment impaired spatial memory but not object recognition memory, compared to control rats. Docetaxel-treated rats also spent significantly more time immobile than controls in the FST. Chronic rolipram treatment attenuated all of these docetaxel-associated changes, recovering spatial memory and reducing immobility. In conclusion, docetaxel-treated rats exhibit alterations in spatial memory and depressive-like behavior, which are reversed following chronic rolipram administration. These results detect long-term cognitive and mood changes following docetaxel treatment and identify PDE4 inhibition as a target treatment of neuropsychological changes associated with “chemobrain”.
Copyright © 2015 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Chemobrain; Chemotherapy; Cognition; Docetaxel; Mood; cAMP

[PS: My book Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation’ (Harvard UP) which also deals with, among other things, interrogating the memory systems of the brain under duress, can be preordered from Amazon (.com)]

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