Toward an agreement on terminology of nuclear and subnuclear divisions of the motor thalamus

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✓ The nomenclature most commonly applied to the motor-related nuclei of the human thalamus differs substantially from that applied to the thalamus of other primates, from which most knowledge of input—output connections is derived. Knowledge of these connections in the human is a prerequisite for stereotactic neurosurgical approaches designed to alleviate movement disorders by the placement of lesions in specific nuclei. Transfer to humans of connectional information derived from experimental studies in nonhuman primates requires agreement about the equivalence of nuclei in the different species, and dialogue between experimentalists and neurosurgeons would be facilitated by the use of a common nomenclature.

In this review, the authors compare the different nomenclatures and review the cyto- and chemoarchitecture of the nuclei in the anterolateral aspect of the ventral nuclear mass in humans and monkeys, suggest which nuclei are equivalent, and propose a common terminology. On this basis, it is possible to identify the nuclei of the human motor thalamus that transfer information from the substantia nigra, globus pallidus, cerebellum, and proprioceptive components of the medial lemniscus to prefrontal, premotor, motor, and somatosensory areas of the cerebral cortex. It also becomes possible to suggest the principal functional systems involved in stereotactically guided thalamotomies and the functional basis of the symptoms observed following ischemic lesions in different parts of the human thalamus.

Article Information

Address reprint requests to: Edward G. Jones, M.D., Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, University of California, Irvine, California 92717.

© AANS, except where prohibited by US copyright law.

Headings

Figures

  • View in gallery

    Schematic representation showing the extent of the motor-related nuclei of the thalamus (cross hatching) and their principal afferent pathways (arrows). CeM = central medial nucleus; CL = central lateral nucleus; CM = centre médian nucleus; IC = internal capsule; MD = mediodorsal nucleus; MP = medial pallidum; MTT = mamillothalamic tract; Pf = parafascicular nucleus; Pla = anterior pulvinar nucleus; Pll = lateral pulvinar nucleus; Plm = medial pulvinar nucleus; R = reticular nucleus; S. nigra = substantia nigra; VA = ventral anterior nucleus; VAmc = ventral anterior nucleus (magnocellular division); VLa = ventral lateral anterior nucleus; VLp = ventral lateral posterior nucleus; VM = ventral medial nucleus; VPLa = ventral posterior lateral nucleus (anterior division); VPLp = ventral posterior lateral nucleus (posterior division).

  • View in gallery

    Photomicrograph of a horizontal section of a monkey thalamus (Macaca fascicularis) showing the major nuclei of the ventral nuclear group. Note how differences in cell size and packing density delineate each nucleus. A line joining the two arrows indicates the approximate border between the cerebellar (VLp) and lemniscal (VPL, ventral posterior medial [VPM]) terminal nuclei. Thionin. Bar = 500 µm. Abbreviations as in Fig. 1; HPT = habenulopeduncular tract.

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    Photomicrograph of a horizontal section of a human thalamus at a level comparable to that shown in Fig. 2. Note the mixed population of large and small cells identified as anterior division of ventral posterior lateral nucleus (VPLa). A curved line joining the two arrows represents the border between the ventral lateral posterior (VLp) and ventral posterior (VPM, VPLa, VPLp) nuclei. Thionine. Bar = 1 mm. Abbreviations as in Fig. 1; MV = medioventral (reuniens) nucleus; VPM = ventral posterior medial nucleus.

  • View in gallery

    Camera lucida drawings of the sections from which Figs. 2 and 3 were taken, showing the borders of the nuclei and with the addition of Olszewski's (left) and Hassler's (right) nomenclature (in parentheses). See Table 1 for explanation of each set of abbreviations.

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    Photomicrographs showing frontal sections of a monkey (M. fascicularis) thalamus stained for acetylcholinesterase and in anterior (A) to posterior (D) order. Note different densities of histochemical staining that enable the nuclei of the motor thalamus to be distinguished from one another. Bar = 1 mm. Abbreviations as in Figs. 1 and 2, with addition of: AD = anterodorsal nucleus; AV = anteroventral nucleus; LD = lateral dorsal nucleus; LP = lateral posterior nucleus. Unexplained abbreviations refer to regions of the thalamus or adjacent structures outside the scope of this review.

  • View in gallery

    Photomicrographs showing frontal sections of a human thalamus in anterior (A) to posterior (D) order, stained for acetylcholinesterase and showing densities of staining in the motor-related nuclei similar to those in the equivalent nuclei of monkeys (Fig. 5). Bar = 1 mm. Abbreviations as in Figs. 1 to 3 and 5.

  • View in gallery

    Schematic sagittal view of the ventral nuclei of the human thalamus with a concordance of the nomenclature of Hassler (italic), Olszewski (parentheses), and Hirai and Jones (bold). See Table 1 for abbreviations. Reprinted with permission, from Jones EG: Stereotactic Functional Neurosurgery 54/55:1–20, 1990.

  • View in gallery

    Schematic parasagittal section showing the divisions of the ventral nuclear group in the human thalamus by Hassler (A) and by Hirai and Jones (B), with the addition of the general input—output connections derived from Asanuma, et al.,Tracey, et al., and Jones and Friedman. Reprinted with permission, from Jones EG: Stereotactic Functional Neurosurgery 54/55:1–20, 1990. See text for more recent details of connections.

  • View in gallery

    Camera lucida drawings of two parasagittal sections of a human thalamus (A is medial to B), showing the nuclei of the motor thalamus designated by the nomenclature of Hirai and Jones, with the nomenclature of Hassler in parentheses. The angled line represents the approximate trajectory taken by most microelectrodes used in recording from the human thalamus. Note how the track crosses the ventral part of the cerebellar zone (VLp/Vim) as well as the proprioceptive part of the lemniscal zone (VPLa/Vcea). Abbreviations as in Figs. 1 to 3 and 6 to 8, with addition of: MG = medial geniculate complex; Po = posterior nucleus; ST = subthalamic nucleus; VPI = ventral posterior inferior nucleus.

  • View in gallery

    Divisions of the macaque monkey thalamus, based on the terminal distributions of afferent fibers from the cerebellum, globus pallidus, and substantia nigra. Reprinted with permission, from Percheron G, François C, Yelnik J: Thalamic Networks for Relay and Modulation. Oxford: Pergamon, 1993.

  • View in gallery

    Schematic representation showing the circuitry linking the striatum and globus pallidus to the motor thalamus, the motor, premotor, and prefrontal cortex, and back to the striatum. The thalamus appears in a parasagittal section. Abbreviations as in Figs. 1 to 3, and 6 to 8, with addition of: LPall = lateral pallidum; MPall = medial pallidum; Po = posterior nucleus; SG = suprageniculate nucleus.

  • View in gallery

    Schematic representation showing the substantia nigral, pallidal, and cerebellar projections to the cerebral cortex via the different nuclei of the motor thalamus.57 Thick lines, main projections; thin lines, supplementary projections.

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