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Cereb Cortex. 2017 Jan 1;27(1):83-91. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhw326.

Spatial Attention Reduces Burstiness in Macaque Visual Cortical Area MST.

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Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, German Primate Center, Goettingen 37077, Germany.
Experimental Neurobiology, National Institute of Mental Health, Klecany 25067, Czech Republic.
Centre of Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences, University of Allahabad, Allahabad 211001, UP, India.
Faculty of Biology and Psychology, Goettingen University, Goettingen 37073, Germany.
Leibniz Science Campus Primate Cognition, Goettingen 37073, Germany.


Visual attention modulates the firing rate of neurons in many primate cortical areas. In V4, a cortical area in the ventral visual pathway, spatial attention has also been shown to reduce the tendency of neurons to fire closely separated spikes (burstiness). A recent model proposes that a single mechanism accounts for both the firing rate enhancement and the burstiness reduction in V4, but this has not been empirically tested. It is also unclear if the burstiness reduction by spatial attention is found in other visual areas and for other attentional types. We therefore recorded from single neurons in the medial superior temporal area (MST), a key motion-processing area along the dorsal visual pathway, of two rhesus monkeys while they performed a task engaging both spatial and feature-based attention. We show that in MST, spatial attention is associated with a clear reduction in burstiness that is independent of the concurrent enhancement of firing rate. In contrast, feature-based attention enhances firing rate but is not associated with a significant reduction in burstiness. These results establish burstiness reduction as a widespread effect of spatial attention. They also suggest that in contrast to the recently proposed model, the effects of spatial attention on burstiness and firing rate emerge from different mechanisms.


attention; burstiness; monkey neurophysiology; visual cortex

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