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Nature. 2013 Jul 25;499(7459):476-80. doi: 10.1038/nature12276. Epub 2013 Jun 26.

Attention enhances synaptic efficacy and the signal-to-noise ratio in neural circuits.

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Center for Neuroscience, University of California, Davis, 1544 Newton Court, Davis, California 95618, USA.


Attention is a critical component of perception. However, the mechanisms by which attention modulates neuronal communication to guide behaviour are poorly understood. To elucidate the synaptic mechanisms of attention, we developed a sensitive assay of attentional modulation of neuronal communication. In alert monkeys performing a visual spatial attention task, we probed thalamocortical communication by electrically stimulating neurons in the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus while simultaneously recording shock-evoked responses from monosynaptically connected neurons in primary visual cortex. We found that attention enhances neuronal communication by increasing the efficacy of presynaptic input in driving postsynaptic responses, by increasing synchronous responses among ensembles of postsynaptic neurons receiving independent input, and by decreasing redundant signals between postsynaptic neurons receiving common input. The results demonstrate that attention finely tunes neuronal communication at the synaptic level by selectively altering synaptic weights, enabling enhanced detection of salient events in the noisy sensory environment.

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