Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society

Neurobehavioral Grand Rounds

The thalamus and working memory

STEPHEN E. NADEAUa1 c1

a1 The Brain Rehabilitation Research Center and the Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center, Malcom Randall Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and the Department of Neurology, University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, Florida

In this issue of JINS, Gasparini and her colleagues (2008) report a subject with a right anterior choroidal artery territory stroke that damaged the anterior hippocampus, but likely more importantly, much of the ventral posterior limb of the internal capsule, effectively disconnecting the right thalamus from temporal cortex. Through systematic cognitive neuropsychological detective work, they provide a compelling case that the essential deficit was one of working memory. This is potentially a very important discovery. The thalamus is a phylogenetically ancient structure, and there is considerable evidence that, in human beings, much of its function has been subsumed by cortical mechanisms (Nadeau & Crosson, 1997). Consequently, there are fundamental limits to how much animal studies can inform us about human thalamic functions, and we are particularly reliant on cognitive neuropsychological studies like this one. The work of Gasparini et al. also provides a fine demonstration of the continuing value of cognitive neuropsychology in advancing our understanding of the details of brain function.

Correspondence:

c1 Correspondence and reprint requests to: Stephen E. Nadeau, Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center (182), Malcom Randall DVA Medical Center, 1601 SW Archer Road, Gainesville, FL. E-mail: snadeau@ufl.edu