Marian Tsanov and Shane M. O’Mara
• Thalamo-hippocampal projections are vital for episodic memory formation.
• There is extensive connectivity between these structures.
• We examine the signals processed within this circuitry.
• We focus on head directionality and theta rhythm.
• Thalamic inputs modulate hippocampal processing.
A major tool in understanding how information is processed in the brain is the analysis of neuronal output at each hierarchical level through which neurophysiological signals are propagated. Since the experimental brain operation performed on Henry Gustav Molaison (known as patient H.M.) in 1953, the hippocampal formation has gained special attention, resulting in a very large number of studies investigating signals processed by the hippocampal formation. One of the main information streams to the hippocampal formation, vital for episodic memory formation, arises from thalamo-hippocampal projections, as there is extensive connectivity between these structures. This connectivity is sometimes overlooked by theories of memory formation by the brain, in favour of theories with a strong cortico-hippocampal flavour. In this review, we attempt to address some of the complexity of the signals processed within the thalamo-hippocampal circuitry. To understand the signals encoded by the anterior thalamic nuclei in particular, we review key findings from electrophysiological, anatomical, behavioural and computational studies. We include recent findings elucidating the integration of different signal modalities by single thalamic neurons; we focus in particular on the propagation of two prominent signals: head directionality and theta rhythm. We conclude that thalamo-hippocampal processing provides a centrally important, substantive, and dynamic input modulating and moderating hippocampal spatial and mnemonic processing.
This article is part of a Special Issue of Brain Research entitled SI: Brain and Memory.