Behavioural investigation of the role of caudal thalamic reticular nucleus in attention
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The thalamic reticular nucleus (TRN), and especially its caudal, sensory-related, half (cTRN), has been hypothesised for years to be at the very heart of thalamic sensory processing modulation, and attentional processes in particular. Very limited behavioural evidence is available, nonetheless, in support of such a functional attribution. In this thesis we carried out a series of investigations, combining immunocytochemical and lesion techniques with tests of behaviour, in order to examine the potential role of cTRN in attention and identify the attentional processes, if any, that it is more likely to contribute to. In chapter II, we looked at the Fos activation levels within modality-specific sectors of cTRN following attentive behaviours to stimulation of different modalities. We observed a selective activation of the visual sector of cTRN in visually attentive animals but not in tactilely attentive, yet visually stimulated, animals, thus demonstrating an involvement of that area in processes of visual attention. In chapter III we looked at the role of cTRN in cross-modal expressions of divided attention. We found that its removal, through neurotoxic lesioning, did not result in any behavioural costs with regard to the division of attention. Detriments in response accuracy, however, suggested that cTRN may be involved in stimulus processing enhancement operations, unrelated with the division of attention. Finally, in chapters IV and V, we looked at the effects of lesions of the visual sector of cTRN (TRNvis) on the ability to orient attention covertly within visual space. We found that the removal of TRNvis did not affect visual covert orienting behaviour, both when this is triggered by exogenous and endogenous means. Overall our results suggest that even though cTRN appears to be involved in some aspects of attention, it does not represent a necessary structure for the generation and operation of certain other forms of attention.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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