This volume provides a snapshot of contemporary findings and ideas concerning the neural basis of thalamic relay and modulatory behaviour. Thalamic research is a multi-disciplinary field which has witnessed a profound change of emphasis in the last five years. In most recent investigations, prominence has been given to the roles of intrinsic neuronal properties and of extrinsic modulatory influences from various cortical and subcortical sources in determining the efficacy of the thalamus as a relay during changes from slow wave sleep or drowsy inattentiveness to one of sharp alertness. Recognition that the thalamus is capable of operating both in relay mode and in oscillatory or state dependent mode is now so well entrenched that it is difficult to credit that the second of these two modes of operation had, for a long time, almost ceased to be of topical interest. This book reflects this renewed interest in the modulation of thalamic relay activity by intrinsic and extrinsic sources, while wishing to underscore the essential role of the thalamus as the gatekeeper of the cerebral cortex and of the pathways to perception. Since their anatomical and physiological substrates are the same, neither of the two modes of thalamic operation can be studied in isolation. However, because each of the chapters in this book tends to highlight one or other of the two functional roles, they have been collated with this in mind. Thus, the first three parts of the book bring together the most recent studies of relay functions: Part I is basically concerned with developmental and evolutionary approaches; Part 11 highlights relay functions of visual, motor and somatosensory relay nuclei and relay functions of the intralaminar nuclei; Part Ill deals primarily with the pharmacology of thalamic neurons. The last part emphasis the mechanisms that underlie the functional assembly of thalamic cells into collectively acting ensembles, largely revealed in rhythmic oscillations, and the behavioural manifestations that accompany them.
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