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Although it is customary to think of the thalamus as a relay that enables corticocortical communication, converging methods of neuroanatomy, neurophysiology, and optogenetics have highlighted the important contribution of the thalamus as a structure whose activities regulate cognitive behavior. This minisymposium presents an exciting array of findings that are making seminal contributions to our understanding of systems-level mechanisms affording new insight and perspectives into the so-called cognitive thalamus.