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PLoS One. 2009;4(2):e4651. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004651. Epub 2009 Feb 27.

A normalization model of attentional modulation of single unit responses.

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Department of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, United States of America.


Although many studies have shown that attention to a stimulus can enhance the responses of individual cortical sensory neurons, little is known about how attention accomplishes this change in response. Here, we propose that attention-based changes in neuronal responses depend on the same response normalization mechanism that adjusts sensory responses whenever multiple stimuli are present. We have implemented a model of attention that assumes that attention works only through this normalization mechanism, and show that it can replicate key effects of attention. The model successfully explains how attention changes the gain of responses to individual stimuli and also why modulation by attention is more robust and not a simple gain change when multiple stimuli are present inside a neuron's receptive field. Additionally, the model accounts well for physiological data that measure separately attentional modulation and sensory normalization of the responses of individual neurons in area MT in visual cortex. The proposal that attention works through a normalization mechanism sheds new light a broad range of observations on how attention alters the representation of sensory information in cerebral cortex.

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