Thalamic reticular nucleus activation reflects attentional gating during classical conditioning

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All senses, except olfaction, are routed through the thalamus to cerebral cortex. Thus, the thalamus is often referred to as the sensory gateway to cortex. Located between thalamus and cortex is a thin lamina of neurons called the thalamic reticular nucleus, which may function as an attentional gate. The phenomenon of blocking in classical conditioning provides an opportunity to test whether an attended stimulus activates the thalamic reticular nucleus more than an unattended stimulus: when a second stimulus is presented together with a previously conditioned stimulus, conditioned responding to the second stimulus is inhibited.

Different groups of rats were given conditioning sessions with a single stimulus, a light or a tone, and then given conditioning sessions with compound (light and tone) stimuli. Blocking was confirmed using probe trials of single stimulus presentations. After a final test session of compound stimulus presentations, the brains were processed for the presence of Fos protein. Here we show that Fos-positive neurons were more numerous in the sector of the thalamic reticular nucleus associated with the attended conditioned stimulus than in the sector associated with the unattended stimulus. Thus, we provide evidence for an involvement of the thalamic reticular nucleus in selective attention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8897-8901
Number of pages5
JournalThe Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2000


  • attention
  • thalamus
  • thalamic reticular nucleus
  • classical conditioning
  • rat
  • blocking


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