Nat Neurosci 2016 Feb 21;19(2):299-307. Epub 2015 Dec 21.
Biozentrum, University of Basel, Switzerland.
Sensory perception depends on the context in which a stimulus occurs. Prevailing models emphasize cortical feedback as the source of contextual modulation. However, higher order thalamic nuclei, such as the pulvinar, interconnect with many cortical and subcortical areas, suggesting a role for the thalamus in providing sensory and behavioral context. Yet the nature of the signals conveyed to cortex by higher order thalamus remains poorly understood. Here we use axonal calcium imaging to measure information provided to visual cortex by the pulvinar equivalent in mice, the lateral posterior nucleus (LP), as well as the dorsolateral geniculate nucleus (dLGN). We found that dLGN conveys retinotopically precise visual signals, while LP provides distributed information from the visual scene. Both LP and dLGN projections carry locomotion signals. However, while dLGN inputs often respond to positive combinations of running and visual flow speed, LP signals discrepancies between self-generated and external visual motion. This higher order thalamic nucleus therefore conveys diverse contextual signals that inform visual cortex about visual scene changes not predicted by the animal's own actions.