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The brain is a complex organ composed of many crucial parts. In this lesson, you will learn about the part of the brain known as the thalamus to gain an understanding of its structure and function.

Definition of the Thalamus

The brain is composed of many parts. They are defined by their locations, functions, and anatomy. The thalamus is a structure in the middle of the brain.

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It is located between the cerebral cortex and the midbrain. It works to correlate several important processes, including consciousness, sleep, and sensory interpretation.

Location of the Thalamus

The human brain on average weighs about three pounds.

The top of the brain is divided into two hemispheres. The bottom of the brain is connected to the spinal cord by the brain stem. If you were able to split the brain directly down the center, you would find the thalamus sitting at the top of the brain stem. The thalamus is composed of two parts, often referred to as lobes. These lobes are symmetrical and are about the size of a walnut.

Thalamus
A scan of the brain.

Functions of the Thalamus

Have you ever called an organization and reached someone who is a switchboard operator? A switchboard operator is responsible for receiving information, interpreting the information, and making the proper connections to send and receive information.

In the brain, the thalamus serves like a switchboard operator for the body. The thalamus is critical in relaying sensory information to the brain.One of our primary senses is sight. Whenever an image hits the retina of the eye, an impulse is sent to the thalamus, and it relays the information to the occipital lobe of the brain, where visual information is processed. We also rely heavily on our sense of hearing. Whenever a sound is picked up by the inner ear, the information is processed through a part of the thalamus to the primary auditory complex of the brain, where it can be interpreted and recognized.

The thalamus also serves in determining our levels of consciousness. Scientists have determined that the thalamus has a role in regulating our periods of sleep and wakefulness. It helps to determine our level of activity, awareness, and arousal. Individuals who suffer damage to the thalamus are often left in a state of permanent coma.

Lesson Summary

Let’s review. The thalamus is located in the center of the brain at the top of the brain stem. It consists of two symmetrical lobes that are about the size of a walnut. The thalamus functions to relay sensory messages from the body to the brain and to regulate levels of consciousness.

Learning Outcomes

This lesson will provide information about the thalamus so that you can:

  • Pinpoint the location and name the components of the thalamus
  • Understand the functions of this structure

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