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Front Syst Neurosci. 2009 Oct 30;3:12. doi: 10.3389/neuro.06.012.2009. eCollection 2009.

Attention to the Color of a Moving Stimulus Modulates Motion-Signal Processing in Macaque Area MT: Evidence for a Unified Attentional System.

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1
German Primate Center Göttingen, Germany.

Abstract

Directing visual attention to spatial locations or to non-spatial stimulus features can strongly modulate responses of individual cortical sensory neurons. Effects of attention typically vary in magnitude, not only between visual cortical areas but also between individual neurons from the same area. Here, we investigate whether the size of attentional effects depends on the match between the tuning properties of the recorded neuron and the perceptual task at hand. We recorded extracellular responses from individual direction-selective neurons in the middle temporal area (MT) of rhesus monkeys trained to attend either to the color or the motion signal of a moving stimulus. We found that effects of spatial and feature-based attention in MT, which are typically observed in tasks allocating attention to motion, were very similar even when attention was directed to the color of the stimulus. We conclude that attentional modulation can occur in extrastriate cortex, even under conditions without a match between the tuning properties of the recorded neuron and the perceptual task at hand. Our data are consistent with theories of object-based attention describing a transfer of attention from relevant to irrelevant features, within the attended object and across the visual field. These results argue for a unified attentional system that modulates responses to a stimulus across cortical areas, even if a given area is specialized for processing task-irrelevant aspects of that stimulus.

KEYWORDS:

attention; color; middle temporal area MT; motion; neuronal representation; visual objects

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