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J Neurosci. 2010 Feb 24;30(8):3058-66. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3766-09.2010.

Attentional modulation of MT neurons with single or multiple stimuli in their receptive fields.

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Department of Neuroscience, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.


Descriptions of how attention modulates neuronal responses suggest that the strength of its effects depends on stimulus conditions. Attention to an isolated stimulus in the receptive field of an individual neuron typically produces a moderate enhancement of the cell's response, but neuronal responses are often strongly modulated when attention is shifted between multiple stimuli that lie within the receptive field. However, previous reports have not compared these stimulus effects under equivalent conditions, so differences in task difficulty could have been responsible for much of the difference. Consequently, the quantitative effects of stimulus conditions have remained unknown, and it has not been possible to address the question of whether the differences that have been observed could be explained by a single mechanism. We measured the attentional modulation of the responses of 70 single neurons in area MT of two rhesus monkeys using a task designed to keep attention stable across different stimulus configurations. We found that attentional modulation was indeed much stronger when more than one stimulus was within the receptive field. Nevertheless, the broad range of attentional modulations seen across the different conditions could be readily explained by single mechanism. The neurophysiological data from all stimulus conditions were well fit by a model in which attention acts via a response normalization mechanism (Lee and Maunsell, 2009). Collectively, these results validate previous impressions of the effects of stimulus configuration on attentional modulation, and add support to hypothesis that attention modulation depends on a response normalization mechanism.

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