Region of Brain Found to Play Role in Sensory Perception

Damage to ventrolateral nucleus of the thalamus caused by stroke leads to changes in sensory perception

MONDAY, Sept. 24 (HealthDay News) -- The ventrolateral nucleus of the thalamus (VL) in the brain is believed to be involved in motor functions, but new research suggests it is also involved in sensory processing, and damage to the area results in neural reorganization that impacts sensory perception, according to a report published online Sept. 24 in the Annals of Neurology.

Tony Ro, Ph.D., of Rice University in Houston, Texas, and colleagues conducted a series of behavioral and neuroimaging studies on a patient who experienced a lacunar infarct to the right VL. The patient was evaluated at one, three and six years post-stroke.

The patient developed unique sensory phenomena in the years after her stroke, such as feeling tingling in her left arm in response to certain sounds, known as sound-touch synesthesia. The researchers postulated that neural reorganization following the VL lesion influenced sensory perception.

"In addition to demonstrating a previously unknown role for the VL in sensory processing, the results from this patient suggest that connections between the thalamus and other brain areas may be important for sensory plasticity following brain damage," the authors write. "Our results suggest that local disruption of the thalamus causes large-scaled changes in remotely connected regions of the brain, perhaps including enhanced excitatory connections between auditory and somatosensory cortex leading to the patient's synesthesia."

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