Size of Sensory Thalamic Nuclei

Certainty Style Key

Certainty styling is being phased out topic by topic.

Hover over keys for definitions:
True   Likely   Speculative
Human Uniqueness Compared to "Great Apes": 
Relative Difference
Human Universality: 
Individual Universal (All Individuals Everywhere)
MOCA Domain: 
MOCA Topic Authors: 

The thalamus is a neural structure found in all vertebrates, located at the dorsal end (top) of the brain stem. It consists of 30 to 40 “nuclei”, or interconnected groups of neurons. “Sensory” thalamic nuclei connect sensory input to the cerebral cortex. These nuclei include the medial geniculate nucleus (MGN; auditory), lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN; visual), and the ventrobasal complex (VB, also known as the ventral posterior nucleus; somatosensory and vestibular).

In a comparison across hominid species, Armstrong & Armstrong (1979) found that, while the absolute volumes of these sensory nuclei are larger in the larger brains, they showed negative allometry (did not increase in size as much as expected, given the increase in size of other parts of the brain). In fact, the total number of neurons did not show significant differences between humans and great apes in the LGN (visual) and MGN (auditory) nuclei. The human VB (somatosensory/vestibular) have slightly greater number of neurons than the great ape VB.

The increase in number of neurons in the human VB could be related to the importance of touching (as opposed to grooming and/or the increased development of tactile sensation necessary to support fine motor skills and the making of tools (Armstrong & Armstrong, 1979). VB size could also be affected by differences in vestibular input due to differences in ape and human locomotion.


Timing of appearance of the difference in the Hominin Lineage as a defined date or a lineage separation event. The point in time associated with lineage separation events may change in the future as the scientific community agrees upon better time estimates. Lineage separation events are defined in 2017 as:

  • the Last Common Ancestor (LCA) of humans and old world monkeys was 25,000 - 30,000 thousand (25 - 30 million) years ago
  • the Last Common Ancestor (LCA) of humans and chimpanzees was 6,000 - 8,000 thousand (6 - 8 million) years ago
  • the emergence of the genus Homo was 2,000 thousand (2 million) years ago
  • the Last Common Ancestor (LCA) of humans and neanderthals was 500 thousand years ago
  • the common ancestor of modern humans was 100 - 300 thousand years ago

Possible Appearance: 
6,000 thousand years ago
Definite Appearance: 
100 thousand years ago
Background Information: 

Activity in these nuclei may be modulated by feedback signals from the reticular nucleus of the thalamus, which itself receives widespread information from the cerebral cortex (e.g. Bal et al, 2000, McAlonan et al, 2000).


  1. The thalamus is more than just a relay., S Sherman, Murray , Curr Opin Neurobiol, 2007 Aug, Volume 17, Issue 4, p.417-22, (2007)
  2. Vestibular signals in primate thalamus: properties and origins., Meng, Hui, May Paul J., J Dickman David, and Angelaki Dora E. , J Neurosci, 2007 Dec 12, Volume 27, Issue 50, p.13590-602, (2007)
  3. Cortical feedback controls the frequency and synchrony of oscillations in the visual thalamus., Bal, T, Debay D, and Destexhe A , J Neurosci, 2000 Oct 1, Volume 20, Issue 19, p.7478-88, (2000)
  4. Quantitative comparison of the hominoid thalamus. I. Specific sensory relay nuclei., Armstrong, E , Am J Phys Anthropol, 1979 Sep, Volume 51, Issue 3, p.365-82, (1979)