Modeling the role of the thalamus in resting-state functional connectivity: Nature or structure

Jesús Cabrera-Álvarez*, Nina Doorn, Fernando Maestú, Gianluca Susi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Abstract

The thalamus is a central brain structure that serves as a relay station for sensory inputs from the periphery to the cortex and regulates cortical arousal. Traditionally, it has been regarded as a passive relay that transmits information between brain regions. However, recent studies have suggested that the thalamus may also play a role in shaping functional connectivity (FC) in a task-based context. Based on this idea, we hypothesized that due to its centrality in the network and its involvement in cortical activation, the thalamus may also contribute to resting-state FC, a key neurological biomarker widely used to characterize brain function in health and disease. To investigate this hypothesis, we constructed ten in-silico brain network models based on neuroimaging data (MEG, MRI, and dwMRI), and simulated them including and excluding the thalamus, and raising the noise into thalamus to represent the afferences related to the reticular activating system (RAS) and the relay of peripheral sensory inputs. We simulated brain activity and compared the resulting FC to their empirical MEG counterparts to evaluate model's performance. Results showed that a parceled version of the thalamus with higher noise, able to drive damped cortical oscillators, enhanced the match to empirical FC. However, with an already active self-oscillatory cortex, no impact on the dynamics was observed when introducing the thalamus. We also demonstrated that the enhanced performance was not related to the structural connectivity of the thalamus, but to its higher noisy inputs. Additionally, we highlighted the relevance of a balanced signal-to-noise ratio in thalamus to allow it to propagate its own dynamics. In conclusion, our study sheds light on the role of the thalamus in shaping brain dynamics and FC in resting-state and allowed us to discuss the general role of criticality in the brain at the mesoscale level.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1011007
Pages (from-to)e1011007
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Volume19
Issue number8
Early online date3 Aug 2023
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2023

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