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J Neurosci. 2008 May 7;28(19):5115-26. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0138-08.2008.

Spatial summation can explain the attentional modulation of neuronal responses to multiple stimuli in area V4.

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Division of Neuroscience and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.


Although many studies have shown that the activity of individual neurons in a variety of visual areas is modulated by attention, a fundamental question remains unresolved: can attention alter the visual representations of individual neurons? One set of studies, primarily relying on the attentional modulations observed when a single stimulus is presented within the receptive field of a neuron, suggests that neuronal selectivities, such as orientation or direction tuning, are not fundamentally altered by attention (Salinas and Abbott, 1997; McAdams and Maunsell, 1999; Treue and Martinez Trujillo, 1999). Another set of studies, relying on modulations observed when multiple stimuli are presented within a receptive field, suggests that attention can alter the weighting of sensory inputs (Moran and Desimone, 1985; Luck et al., 1997; Reynolds et al., 1999; Chelazzi et al., 2001). In these studies, when preferred and nonpreferred stimuli are simultaneously presented, responses are much stronger when attention is directed to the preferred stimulus than when it is directed to the nonpreferred stimulus. In this study, we recorded neuronal responses from individual neurons in visual cortical area V4 to both single and paired stimuli with a variety of attentional allocations and stimulus combinations. For each neuron studied, we constructed a quantitative model of input summation and then tested various models of attention. In many neurons, we are able to explain neuronal responses across the entire range of stimuli and attentional allocations tested. Specifically, we are able to reconcile seemingly inconsistent observations of single and paired stimuli attentional modulation with a new model in which attention can facilitate or suppress specific inputs to a neuron but does not fundamentally alter the integration of these inputs.

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