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J Neurophysiol. 2004 Jan;91(1):152-62. Epub 2003 Sep 17.

Microstimulation of the frontal eye field and its effects on covert spatial attention.

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Department of Psychology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08544-1010, USA.


Many studies have established that the strength of visual perception and the strength of visual representations within visual cortex vary according to the focus of covert spatial attention. While it is clear that attention can modulate visual signals, the source of this modulation remains unknown. We have examined the possibility that saccade related mechanisms provide a source of spatial attention by studying the effects of electrical microstimulation of the frontal eye fields (FEF) on spatial attention. Monkeys performed a task in which they had to detect luminance changes of a peripheral target while ignoring a flashing distracter. The target luminance change could be preceded by stimulation of the FEF at current levels below that which evoked saccadic eye movements. We found that when the target change was preceded by stimulation of FEF, the monkey could detect smaller changes in target luminance. The increased sensitivity to the target change only occurred when the target was placed in the part of the visual field represented by neurons at the stimulation site. The magnitude of improvement depended on the temporal asynchrony of the stimulation onset and the target event. No significant effect of stimulation was observed when long intervals (>300 ms) between stimulation and the target event were used, and the magnitude of the increased sensitivity decreased systematically with increasing asynchrony. At the shortest asynchrony, FEF stimulation temporally overlapped the target event and the magnitude of the improvement was comparable to that of removing the distracter from the task. These results demonstrate that transient, but potent improvements in the deployment of covert spatial attention can be obtained by microstimulation of FEF sites from which saccadic eye movements are also evoked.

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