Neural - Thalamus Development

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Adult diencephalon

Neural development is one of the earliest systems to begin and the last to be completed after birth. This development generates the most complex structure within the embryo and the long time period of development means in utero insult during pregnancy may have consequences to development of the nervous system.

The early central nervous system begins as a simple neural plate that folds to form a groove then tube, open initially at each end. Failure of these opening to close contributes a major class of neural abnormalities (neural tube defects).

Within the neural tube stem cells generate the 2 major classes of cells that make the majority of the nervous system : neurons and glia. Both these classes of cells differentiate into many different types generated with highly specialized functions and shapes. This section covers the establishment of neural populations, the inductive influences of surrounding tissues and the sequential generation of neurons establishing the layered structure seen in the brain and spinal cord.

  • Neural development beginnings quite early, therefore also look at notes covering Week 3- neural tube and Week 4-early nervous system.
  • Development of the neural crest and sensory systems (hearing/vision/smell) are only introduced in these notes and are covered in other notes sections.

Neural Links: ectoderm | neural | neural crest | ventricular | sensory | Stage 22 | gliogenesis | neural fetal | Medicine Lecture - Neural | Lecture - Ectoderm | Lecture - Neural Crest | Lab - Early Neural | neural abnormalities | folic acid | iodine deficiency | Fetal Alcohol Syndrome | neural postnatal | neural examination | Histology | Historic Neural | Category:Neural
Neural Parts: neural | prosencephalon | telencephalon cerebrum | amygdala | hippocampus | basal ganglia | diencephalon | epithalamus | thalamus | hypothalamus‎ | pituitary | pineal | mesencephalon | tectum | rhombencephalon | metencephalon | pons | cerebellum | myelencephalon | medulla oblongata | spinal cord | neural vascular | ventricular | lateral ventricles | third ventricle | cerebral aqueduct | fourth ventricle | central canal | meninges | Category:Ventricular System | Category:Neural

Some Recent Findings

Human Fetal Brain (3 months)
  • Review - Development of the thalamus: From early patterning to regulation of cortical functions[1] "The thalamus is a brain structure of the vertebrate diencephalon that plays a central role in regulating diverse functions of the cerebral cortex. In traditional view of vertebrate neuroanatomy, the thalamus includes three regions, dorsal thalamus, ventral thalamus, and epithalamus. Recent molecular embryological studies have redefined the thalamus and the associated axial nomenclature of the diencephalon in the context of forebrain patterning. This new view has provided a useful conceptual framework for studies on molecular mechanisms of patterning, neurogenesis and fate specification in the thalamus as well as the guidance mechanisms for thalamocortical axons. Additionally, the availability of genetic tools in mice has led to important findings on how thalamic development is linked to the development of other brain regions, particularly the cerebral cortex. This article will give an overview of the organization of the embryonic thalamus and how progenitor cells in the thalamus generate neurons that are organized into discrete nuclei."
  • Thalamus Controls Development and Expression of Arousal States in Visual Cortex[2] "Two major checkpoints of development in cerebral cortex are the acquisition of continuous spontaneous activity and the modulation of this activity by behavioral state. Despite the critical importance of these functions, the circuit mechanisms of their development remain unknown. Here we use the rodent visual system as a model to test the hypothesis that the locus of circuit change responsible for the developmental acquisition of continuity and state dependence measured in sensory cortex is relay thalamus, rather than the local cortical circuitry or the interconnectivity of the two structures. We conducted simultaneous recordings in the dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus (dLGN) and primary visual cortex (VC) of awake, head-fixed male and female rats using linear multielectrode arrays throughout early development. We find that activity in dLGN becomes continuous and positively correlated with movement (a measure of state dependence) on P13, the same day as VC, and that these properties are not dependent on VC activity. By contrast, silencing dLGN after P13 causes activity in VC to become discontinuous and movement to suppress, rather than augment, cortical firing, effectively reversing development. Thalamic bursting, a core characteristic of non-aroused states, emerged later, on P16, suggesting these processes are developmentally independent. Together our results indicate that cellular or circuit changes in relay thalamus are critical drivers for the maturation of background activity, which occurs around term in humans.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The developing brain acquires two crucial features, continuous spontaneous activity and its modulation by arousal state, around term in humans and before the onset of sensory experience in rodents. This developmental transition in cortical activity, as measured by electroencephalogram (EEG), is an important milestone for normal brain development and indicates a good prognosis for babies born preterm and/or suffering brain damage such as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy."
  • Wnt3 and Wnt3a are required for induction of the mid-diencephalic organizer in the caudal forebrain[3] "The thalamus is located in the caudal diencephalon and is the central relay station between the sense organs and higher brain areas. The mid-diencephalic organizer (MDO) orchestrates the development of the thalamus by releasing secreted signaling molecules such as Shh. Here we show that canonical Wnt signaling in the caudal forebrain is required for the formation of the Shh-secreting MD organizer in zebrafish. "
  • Dynamic imaging of mammalian neural tube closure[4]
More recent papers  
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Search term: Thalamus Embryology

<pubmed limit=5>Thalamus Embryology</pubmed>

Embryonic Thalamus

Week 8

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Human Stage 22 brain.

The basal part of the telencephalon forms the basal ganglia, a solid mass. Posteromedially these basal ganglia are in contact with the diencephalon. The large masses in either side of the diencephalon form the thalami.

Fetal Thalamus

Brain tract development 06.jpg

Brain lateral view 13, 15, and 19 weeks the developing thalamus is shown in yellow.[5]

Brain ventricles and ganglia development 01.jpg

MRI three-dimensional reconstruction of the whole fetal brain (lower row; yellow - thalamus)

Development Overview

Neuralation begins at the trilaminar embryo with formation of the notochord and somites, both of which underly the ectoderm and do not contribute to the nervous system, but are involved with patterning its initial formation. The central portion of the ectoderm then forms the neural plate that folds to form the neural tube, that will eventually form the entire central nervous system.

Early developmental sequence: Epiblast - Ectoderm - Neural Plate - Neural groove and Neural Crest - Neural Tube and Neural Crest

Neural Tube Development
Neural Tube Primary Vesicles Secondary Vesicles Adult Structures
week 3 week 4 week 5 adult
neural plate
neural groove
neural tube

prosencephalon (forebrain) telencephalon Rhinencephalon, Amygdala, hippocampus, cerebrum (cortex), hypothalamus‎, pituitary | Basal Ganglia, lateral ventricles
diencephalon epithalamus, thalamus, Subthalamus, pineal, posterior commissure, pretectum, third ventricle
mesencephalon (midbrain) mesencephalon tectum, Cerebral peduncle, cerebral aqueduct, pons
rhombencephalon (hindbrain) metencephalon cerebellum
myelencephalon medulla oblongata, isthmus
spinal cord, pyramidal decussation, central canal

Early Brain Vesicles

Primary Vesicles

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Secondary Vesicles

CNS secondary vesicles.jpg


  1. Nakagawa Y. (2019). Development of the thalamus: From early patterning to regulation of cortical functions. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Dev Biol , 8, e345. PMID: 31034163 DOI.
  2. Murata Y & Colonnese MT. (2018). Thalamus Controls Development and Expression of Arousal States in Visual Cortex. J. Neurosci. , 38, 8772-8786. PMID: 30150360 DOI.
  3. Mattes B, Weber S, Peres J, Chen Q, Davidson G, Houart C & Scholpp S. (2012). Wnt3 and Wnt3a are required for induction of the mid-diencephalic organizer in the caudal forebrain. Neural Dev , 7, 12. PMID: 22475147 DOI.
  4. Pyrgaki C, Trainor P, Hadjantonakis AK & Niswander L. (2010). Dynamic imaging of mammalian neural tube closure. Dev. Biol. , 344, 941-7. PMID: 20558153 DOI.
  5. Huang H, Xue R, Zhang J, Ren T, Richards LJ, Yarowsky P, Miller MI & Mori S. (2009). Anatomical characterization of human fetal brain development with diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging. J. Neurosci. , 29, 4263-73. PMID: 19339620 DOI.


Nakagawa Y. (2019). Development of the thalamus: From early patterning to regulation of cortical functions. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Dev Biol , 8, e345. PMID: 31034163 DOI.

Greene ND & Copp AJ. (2009). Development of the vertebrate central nervous system: formation of the neural tube. Prenat. Diagn. , 29, 303-11. PMID: 19206138 DOI.


Saitsu H & Shiota K. (2008). Involvement of the axially condensed tail bud mesenchyme in normal and abnormal human posterior neural tube development. Congenit Anom (Kyoto) , 48, 1-6. PMID: 18230116 DOI.

Search PubMed

Search Pubmed: Thalamus Embryology | Thalamus Development

Additional Images

Quinlan R, Graf M, Mason I, Lumsden A & Kiecker C. (2009). Complex and dynamic patterns of Wnt pathway gene expression in the developing chick forebrain. Neural Dev , 4, 35. PMID: 19732418 DOI.

Chicken- neural Wnt expression.jpg "Wnt4 expression in the thalamus is repressed by Shh from the ZLI we reveal an additional level of interaction between these two pathways and provide an example for the cross-regulation between patterning centres during forebrain regionalisation."

Historic Images

Bailey FR. and Miller AM. Text-Book of Embryology (1921) New York: William Wood and Co.

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Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2024, June 22) Embryology Neural - Thalamus Development. Retrieved from

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