Dendritic integration theory: A thalamo-cortical theory of state and content of consciousness


State of consciousness
Contents of consciousness
Phenomenal experience
Pyramidal neuron

How to Cite

Bachmann, T., Suzuki, M., & Aru, J. (2020). Dendritic integration theory: A thalamo-cortical theory of state and content of consciousness. Philosophy and the Mind Sciences, 1(II).


The idea that the thalamo-cortical system is the crucial constituent of the neurobiological mechanisms of consciousness has a long history. For the last few decades, however, consciousness research has to a large extent overlooked the interplay between the cortex and thalamus. Here we revive an integrated view of the neurobiology of consciousness by presenting and discussing several recent major findings about the role of the thalamocortical interactions in consciousness. Based on these findings we propose a specific cellular mechanism how thalamic nuclei modulate the integration of different processing streams within single cortical pyramidal neurons. This theory is inspired by recent work done in rodents, but it integrates decades of work conducted on various species. We illustrate how this new view readily explains various properties and experimental phenomena associated with conscious experience. We discuss the implications of this idea and some of the experiments that need to be done in order to test it. Our view bridges two long-standing perspectives on the neural mechanisms of consciousness and proposes that cortical and thalamo-cortical processing interact at the level of single pyramidal cells.


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