Deconstructing the Direct Reciprocal Hippocampal-Anterior Thalamic Pathways for Spatial Learning

Andrew J D Nelson, Lisa Kinnavane, Eman Amin, Shane M O'Mara, John P Aggleton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


The hippocampus is essential for normal memory but does not act in isolation. The anterior thalamic nuclei may represent one vital partner. Using DREADDs, the behavioral consequences of transiently disrupting anterior thalamic function were examined, followed by inactivation of the dorsal subiculum. Next, the anterograde transport of an adeno-associated virus expressing DREADDs was paired with localized intracerebral infusions of a ligand to target specific input pathways. In this way, the direct projections from the anterior thalamic nuclei to the dorsal hippocampal formation were inhibited, followed by separate inhibition of the dorsal subiculum projections to the anterior thalamic nuclei. To assay spatial working memory, all animals performed a reinforced T-maze alternation task, then a more challenging version that nullifies intramaze cues. Across all four experiments, deficits emerged on the spatial alternation task that precluded the use of intramaze cues. Inhibiting dorsal subiculum projections to the anterior thalamic nuclei produced the severest spatial working memory deficit. This deficit revealed the key contribution of dorsal subiculum projections to the anteromedial and anteroventral thalamic nuclei for the processing of allocentric information, projections not associated with head-direction information. The overall pattern of results provides consistent causal evidence of the two-way functional significance of direct hippocampal-anterior thalamic interactions for spatial processing. At the same time, these findings are consistent with hypotheses that these same, reciprocal interactions underlie the common core symptoms of temporal lobe and diencephalic anterograde amnesia.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT It has long been conjectured that the anterior thalamic nuclei might be key partners with the hippocampal formation and that, respectively, they are principally responsible for diencephalic and temporal lobe amnesia. However, direct causal evidence for this functional relationship is lacking. Here, we examined the behavioral consequences of transiently silencing the direct reciprocal interconnections between these two brain regions on tests of spatial learning. Disrupting information flow from the hippocampal formation to the anterior thalamic nuclei and vice versa impaired performance on tests of spatial learning. By revealing the conjoint importance of hippocampal-anterior thalamic pathways, these findings help explain why pathology in either the medial diencephalon or the medial temporal lobes can result in profound anterograde amnesic syndromes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6978-6990
Number of pages13
JournalThe Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Issue number36
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sep 2020


  • Animals
  • Hippocampus/physiology
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways/physiology
  • Rats
  • Spatial Learning
  • Thalamic Nuclei/physiology

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