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Trends Neurosci. 2011 Apr;34(4):210-24. doi: 10.1016/j.tins.2011.02.003. Epub 2011 Mar 23.

Mechanisms of top-down attention.

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Neuroscience Graduate Program, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA.


Attention exhibits characteristic neural signatures in brain regions that process sensory signals. An important area of future research is to understand the nature of top-down signals that facilitate attentional guidance towards behaviorally relevant locations and features. In this review, we discuss recent studies that have made progress towards understanding: (i) the brain structures and circuits involved in attentional allocation; (ii) top-down attention pathways, particularly as elucidated by microstimulation and lesion studies; (iii) top-down modulatory influences involving subcortical structures and reward systems; (iv) plausible substrates and embodiments of top-down signals; and (v) information processing and theoretical constraints that might be helpful in guiding future experiments. Understanding top-down attention is crucial for elucidating the mechanisms by which we can filter sensory information to pay attention to the most behaviorally relevant events.

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