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J Neurosci. 2016 Jul 13;36(28):7523-34. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0610-16.2016.

Attention Increases Spike Count Correlations between Visual Cortical Areas.

Author information

1
Department of Neuroscience and Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213 ruffd@pitt.edu.
2
Department of Neuroscience and Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213.

Abstract

Visual attention, which improves perception of attended locations or objects, has long been known to affect many aspects of the responses of neuronal populations in visual cortex. There are two nonmutually exclusive hypotheses concerning the neuronal mechanisms that underlie these perceptual improvements. The first hypothesis, that attention improves the information encoded by a population of neurons in a particular cortical area, has considerable physiological support. The second hypothesis is that attention improves perception by selectively communicating relevant visual information. This idea has been tested primarily by measuring interactions between neurons on very short timescales, which are mathematically nearly independent of neuronal interactions on longer timescales. We tested the hypothesis that attention changes the way visual information is communicated between cortical areas on longer timescales by recording simultaneously from neurons in primary visual cortex (V1) and the middle temporal area (MT) in rhesus monkeys. We used two independent and complementary approaches. Our correlative experiment showed that attention increases the trial-to-trial response variability that is shared between the two areas. In our causal experiment, we electrically microstimulated V1 and found that attention increased the effect of stimulation on MT responses. Together, our results suggest that attention affects both the way visual stimuli are encoded within a cortical area and the extent to which visual information is communicated between areas on behaviorally relevant timescales.

SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT:

Visual attention dramatically improves the perception of attended stimuli. Attention has long been thought to act by selecting relevant visual information for further processing. It has been hypothesized that this selection is accomplished by increasing communication between neurons that encode attended information in different cortical areas. We recorded simultaneously from neurons in primary visual cortex and the middle temporal area while rhesus monkeys performed an attention task. We found that attention increased shared variability between neurons in the two areas and that attention increased the effect of microstimulation in V1 on the firing rates of MT neurons. Our results provide support for the hypothesis that attention increases communication between neurons in different brain areas on behaviorally relevant timescales.

KEYWORDS:

attention; middle temporal area; primary visual cortex; variability

PMID:
27413161
PMCID:
PMC4945670
DOI:
10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0610-16.2016
[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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