Send to

Choose Destination
Trends Cogn Sci. 2018 May;22(5):422-437. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2018.02.011. Epub 2018 Mar 22.

Normalization and the Cholinergic Microcircuit: A Unified Basis for Attention.

Author information

Montreal Neurological Institute, Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, McGill University, 3801 rue University, Montreal, QC, H3A 2B4, Canada. Electronic address:
Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, University of Cambridge, 15 Chaucer Road, Cambridge CB2 7EF, UK; Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3UD, UK.


Attention alters three key properties of population neural activity - firing rate, rate variability, and shared variability between neurons. All three properties are well explained by a single canonical computation - normalization - that acts across hierarchically integrated brain systems. Combining data from rodents and nonhuman primates, we argue that cortical cholinergic modulation originating from the basal forebrain closely mimics the effects of directed attention on these three properties of population neural activity. Cholinergic modulation of the cortical microcircuit underlying normalization may represent a key biological basis for the rapid and flexible changes in population neuronal coding that are required by directed attention.


acetylcholine/cholinergic; attention; basal forebrain; cortical circuit; divisive normalization; noise correlation

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center