Thalamic amnesia after infarct: the role of the mammillothalamic tract and mediodorsal nucleus
Objective: To improve current understanding of the mechanisms behind thalamic amnesia, as it is unclear whether it is directly related to damage to specific nuclei, in particular to the anterior or mediodorsal nuclei, or indirectly related to lesions of the mammillothalamic tract (MTT).
Methods: We recruited 12 patients with a left thalamic infarction and 25 healthy matched controls. All underwent a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment of verbal and visual memory, executive functions, language, and affect, and a high-resolution structural volumetric MRI scan. Thalamic lesions were manually segmented and automatically localized with a computerized thalamic atlas. As well as comparing patients with controls, we divided patients into subgroups with intact or damaged MTT.
Results: Only one patient had a small lesion of the anterior nucleus. Most of the lesions included the mediodorsal (n = 11) and intralaminar nuclei (n = 12). Patients performed worse than controls on the verbal memory tasks, but the 5 patients with intact MTT who showed isolated lesions of the mediodorsal nucleus (MD) only displayed moderate memory impairment. The 7 patients with a damaged MTT performed worse on the verbal memory tasks than those whose MTT was intact.
Conclusions: Lesions in the MTT and in the MD result in memory impairment, severely in the case of MTT and to a lesser extent in the case of MD, thus highlighting the roles played by these 2 structures in memory circuits.