May 24, 2010

strange thoughts about the thalamus in bed

Disclaimer: we have a huge neural science test this morning, so my head's in a strange place thinking about itself... but maybe it will be interesting to get inside the crazy head of a med student the day of an exam:

This morning I woke up at 5:30 (2 hours before my alarm!) - I think because I got about nine hours of sleep the night before (though this is all exception rather than the rule for me in particular, and probably med students in general.

As I lay awake in my bed, wondering if my brain was alert enough for me to have to get up or if I could convince myself to go back to sleep, I realized that curled up on my side I was in the perfect position of the thalamus in the brain. Strange thoughts to wake up to, I know - but I've been trying to figure out the orientation of the thalamus based on the parts of it we're learning for a few days (week?) now and until that moment, I hadn't really.

So here's how you figure out the location of your thalamic nuclei while curled up in your bed wondering if you should get up. First, you have to be laying so that your right shoulder is down. This way, your head becomes the anterior nucleus of the thalamus and your left shoulder and arm become the medial dorsal nucleus (both are involved in limbic, or emotional function), your right shoulder becomes your ventral anterior nucleus (function = motor), your right arm becomes your ventral lateral/ventral intermediate nucleus (function = somatosensory), and your right hand becomes your ventral posterior medial (fcn = sensation to your body) and your right hip becomes your ventral posterior lateral (fcn = sensation to the face), and your bum becomes the pulvinar (fcn = integration of visual and auditory info), which means "pillow" and is therefore kind of fitting. Then you have the top of your spine as the lateral dorsal nucleus (fcn: emotional expression), the bottom of your spine as the lateral posterior nucleus (fcn: sensory integration, including sharp pain). Then your right leg is the medial geniculate nucleus (fcn: auditory), your left leg is the lateral geniculate nucleus (fcn: visual), and then there are the three "non-specific nuclei". I'm not quite sure where those are still, so let's call them your right foot (intralaminar nucleus; fcn: motor), left foot (medial nucleus: motor), and the sheets wrapped around you (reticular: modulation of all thalamic activity, because everything has to go through it to signal to the actual thalamus).

I feel pretty good about this metephor and hopefully it will help me out on the exam today - though it might be strange for me to keep curling into a fetal position during the test... we'll see.


"art is an I; science is a we"
-claude bernard

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