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Cortex. 2019 Jun 29;120:223-239. doi: 10.1016/j.cortex.2019.06.009. [Epub ahead of print]

Impaired visual search with paradoxically increased facilitation by emotional features after unilateral pulvinar damage.

Author information

1
Neuroscience Department, Laboratory for Behavioral Neurology and Imaging of Cognition, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland.
2
Neuroscience Department, Laboratory for Behavioral Neurology and Imaging of Cognition, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland; Neurology Department, University Hospital of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland; Laboratory of Cognitive Neurorehabilitation, Faculty of Medicine, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland. Electronic address: alexia.bourgeois@unige.ch.
3
Neurology Department, University Hospital of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland.
4
Neuroscience Department, Laboratory for Behavioral Neurology and Imaging of Cognition, University of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland; Neurology Department, University Hospital of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland.

Abstract

Posterior thalamic pulvinar nuclei have been implicated in different aspects of spatial attention, but their exact role in humans remain unclear. Most neuropsychological studies of attention deficits after pulvinar lesion have concerned single patients or small samples. Here we examined a group of 13 patients with focal damage to posterior thalamus on a visual search task with faces, allowing us to test several hypotheses concerning pulvinar function in controlling attention to visually salient or emotionally significant stimuli. Our results identified two subgroups of thalamic patients with distinct patterns of attentional responsiveness to emotional and colour features in face targets. One group with lesions located in anterior and ventral portions of thalamus showed intact performance, with a normal facilitation of visual search for faces with emotional (fearful or happy) expressions on both side of space, similar to healthy controls. By contrast, a second group showed a slower and poorer detection of face targets, most severe for neutral faces, but with a paradoxically enhanced facilitation by both colour and emotional features. This second group had lesions centred on the pulvinar, involving mainly the dorso-medial sectors in patients showing enhanced effects of colour features, but extending to more dorso-lateral sectors in those with enhanced effects of emotional features. These findings reveal that pulvinar nuclei are not critical for orienting attention to emotionally or visually salient features, but instead provide new evidence in support of previous hypotheses suggesting an important role in controlling attention in visual scenes with distracting information.

KEYWORDS:

Attention; Pulvinar; Salience; Scrutiny

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