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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Jun 9;106(23):9489-94. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0900419106. Epub 2009 May 22.

Mirroring of attention by neurons in macaque parietal cortex.

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  • 1Neuroscience Institute, Princeton University, Princeton, NJ 08540, USA. stephen.v.shepherd@gmail.com

Abstract

Macaques, like humans, rapidly orient their attention in the direction other individuals are looking. Both cortical and subcortical pathways have been proposed as neural mediators of social gaze following, but neither pathway has been characterized electrophysiologically in behaving animals. To address this gap, we recorded the activity of single neurons in the lateral intraparietal area (LIP) of rhesus macaques to determine whether and how this area might contribute to gaze following. A subset of LIP neurons mirrored observed attention by firing both when the subject looked in the preferred direction of the neuron, and when observed monkeys looked in the preferred direction of the neuron, despite the irrelevance of the monkey images to the task. Importantly, the timing of these modulations matched the time course of gaze-following behavior. A second population of neurons was suppressed by social gaze cues, possibly subserving task demands by maintaining fixation on the observed face. These observations suggest that LIP contributes to sharing of observed attention and link mirror representations in parietal cortex to a well studied imitative behavior.

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