The thalamus is a relatively large collection of cell body clusters shaped like two small footballs. It is involved in receiving sensory information from the eyes and other sense organs, processing that information, and then transmitting it to primary sensory zones in the cerebral cortex.
The thalamus also processes pain signals from the spinal cord as well as information from different parts of the cerebral hemispheres, and relays it to the cerebellum and the medulla. Together with the hypothalamus, the thalamus forms part of the forebrain called the diencephalon.
By registering the sensory properties of food, such as texture and temperature, the thalamus plays a role in appetite. It is also known to be involved in the control of sleep and wakefulness.
Cognitive researchers have found that the thalamus activates or integrates language functions, plays a role in memory, and that a portion of the thalamus, called the pulvinar, helps in refocusing attention.
Together with the hippocampus and parts of the cortex, it is instrumental in the formation of new memories, which are then thought to be stored in the cerebral cortex.