Abstract

The human thalamus has been suggested to be involved in executive function, based on animal studies and correlational evidence from functional neuroimaging in humans. Human lesion studies, examining behavioral deficits associated with focal brain injuries, can directly test the necessity of the human thalamus for executive function. The goal of our study was to determine the specific lesion location within the thalamus as well as the potential disruption of specific thalamocortical functional networks, related to executive dysfunction. We assessed executive function in 15 patients with focal thalamic lesions and 34 comparison patients with lesions that spared the thalamus. We found that patients with mediodorsal thalamic lesions exhibited more severe impairment in executive function when compared to both patients with thalamic lesions that spared the mediodorsal nucleus and to comparison patients with lesions outside the thalamus. Furthermore, we employed a lesion network mapping approach to map cortical regions that show strong functional connectivity with the lesioned thalamic subregions in the normative functional connectome. We found that thalamic lesion sites associated with more severe deficits in executive function showed stronger functional connectivity with ACC, dorsomedial PFC, and frontoparietal network, compared to thalamic lesions not associated with executive dysfunction. These are brain regions and functional networks whose dysfunction could contribute to impaired executive functioning. In aggregate, our findings provide new evidence that delineates a thalamocortical network for executive function.

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