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Cereb Cortex. 2001 Jul;11(7):581-91.

Neuronal responses in area 7a to multiple-stimulus displays: I. neurons encode the location of the salient stimulus.

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Zanvyl Krieger Mind/Brain Institute, Johns Hopkins University, 3400 N. Charles Street/Krieger Hall, Baltimore, MD 21218, USA.


The primate posterior parietal cortex (PPC) plays an important role in representing and recalling spatial relationships and in the ability to orient visual attention. This is evidenced by the parietal activation observed in brain imaging experiments performed during visuo- spatial tasks, and by the contralateral neglect syndrome that often accompanies parietal lesions. Individual neurons in monkey parietal cortex respond vigorously to the appearance of single, behaviorally relevant stimuli, but little is known about how they respond to more complex visual displays. The current experiments addressed this issue by recording activity from single neurons in area 7a of the PPC in monkeys performing a spatial version of a match-to-sample task. The task required them to locate salient stimuli in multiple-stimulus displays and release a lever after a subsequent stimulus appeared at the same location. Neurons responded preferentially to the appearance of salient stimuli inside their receptive fields. The presence of multiple stimuli did not affect appreciably the spatial tuning of responses in the majority of neurons or the population code for the location of the salient stimulus. Responses to salient stimuli could be distinguished from background stimuli approximately 100 ms after the onset of the cue. These results suggest that area 7a neurons represent the location of the stimulus attracting the animal's attention and can provide the spatial information required for directing attention to a salient stimulus in a complex scene.

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