The thalamus is a central part of the human brain and it performs many important functions. It can be found between the mid brain and the cerebral cortex, at the top of the brain stem, and it can be described almost as a “command center” for body activities since it is ideally placed to send nerve fibers to every corner of the human body.
There are two distinct to the thalamus and they look like bulb shaped masses. Each part is about 5.7cm long and they sit symmetrically on both sides of the third ventricle. The thalamus is made up of different structures. These include lamellae and neuron clusters. It is supplied by blood from four separate arteries.
What does the thalamus do in the brain?
Like the rest of the brain, thalamus function is exceptionally complex, but in simple terms, one of its main functions is to process and relay information from our senses. The sensory information from all systems (apart from the olfactory system) floods in from all corners of our body and is transmitted to the cerebral cortex. However, this information superhighway is not just a one-way street: information is also passed back from the cerebral cortex to the thalamus for transmittal back to the body.
What does the thalamus do?
As well as processing sensory information, the thalamus also regulates sleep and wakefulness. The strong connections between the cerebral cortex and the thalamus help to form thalamo-cortico-thamlamic circuits and these are responsible for maintaining levels of consciousness, regulating arousal, and activity levels, which is why damage to the thalamus can lead to a state of coma.
The thalamus also plays an important role in our motor function and it helps to control the motor systems of the body, and this has been the subject of a great deal of research over the last few years.
What does the thalamus do when driving a car?
Because the thalamus acts as a sensory filter for everything we do, the thalamus works in the background to monitor all sensory messages during any complex activities. Any complicated task such as driving will lead to a continual stream of sensory data hitting the brain. We see the road ahead, feel the bumps in the road, hear the sound of a siren in the distance, and even taste the flavor of the coffee we bought at the last rest stop. All this stimuli needs to be processed and it is the job of the thalamus to do exactly that. The processing of information ensures we are able to react to any given situation the moment it happens.
What does the thalamus do in relation to the hypothalamus?
The hypothalamus is the size of a small almond and is connected to the thalamus and can be found just below it. The hypothalamus and thalamus work together, but the hypothalamus has a very important function in that it provides a link between the endocrine system and the nervous system using the pituitary gland.