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Eur J Neurosci. 2017 Dec;46(12):2844-2858. doi: 10.1111/ejn.13764.

Distracter suppression dominates attentional modulation of responses to multiple stimuli inside the receptive fields of middle temporal neurons.

Author information

Department of Physiology, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada.
Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, German Primate Centre - Leibniz Institute for Primate Research, Göttingen, Germany.
Faculty for Biology and Psychology, University of Göttingen, Göttingen, Germany.
McGill Vision Research Unit, Department of Ophthalmology, McGill University, Montreal, QC, Canada.
École d'Optométrie, Université de Montréal, Montreal, QC, Canada.
Departments of Psychiatry, Physiology and Pharmacology, Robarts Research Institute, University of Western Ontario, London, ON, N6A 5B7, Canada.


Single-cell studies in macaques have shown that attending to one of two stimuli, positioned inside a visual neuron's receptive field (RF), modulates the neuron's response to reflect the features of the attended stimulus. Such a modulation has been described as a 'push-pull' effect relative to a reference response: a neuron's response increases when attention is directed to a preferred stimulus, and decreases when attention is directed to a non-preferred stimulus. It has been further suggested that the response increase when attending to a preferred stimulus is the predominant effect. Here, we show that the observed attentional modulation depends on the reference response. We recorded neuronal responses in motion processing area middle temporal (MT) of macaques to two moving random dot patterns positioned inside neurons' RF. One pattern always moved in the neuron's antipreferred direction (null pattern), while the other moved in one of 12 directions (tuning pattern). At the beginning of a trial, a cue indicated the location and direction of the target. The animal was required to release a lever when a change in the target direction occurred, and to ignore changes in the distracter. Relative to neurons' initial responses to the dual stimuli (when attention was less likely to modulate responses), attending to the tuning pattern did not significantly modulate responses over time. However, attending to the null pattern progressively decreased responses over time. These results were quantitatively described by filter and input gain models, characterising a predominant response suppression relative to a reference response, rather than response enhancement.


attention; distracter suppression; filter model; macaque monkey; middle temporal

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