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J Neurosci. 2005 Oct 12;25(41):9479-87.

Neuronal basis of covert spatial attention in the frontal eye field.

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Laboratory of Sensorimotor Research, National Eye Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


The influential "premotor theory of attention" proposes that developing oculomotor commands mediate covert visual spatial attention. A likely source of this attentional bias is the frontal eye field (FEF), an area of the frontal cortex involved in converting visual information into saccade commands. We investigated the link between FEF activity and covert spatial attention by recording from FEF visual and saccade-related neurons in monkeys performing covert visual search tasks without eye movements. Here we show that the source of attention signals in the FEF is enhanced activity of visually responsive neurons. At the time attention is allocated to the visual search target, nonvisually responsive saccade-related movement neurons are inhibited. Therefore, in the FEF, spatial attention signals are independent of explicit saccade command signals. We propose that spatially selective activity in FEF visually responsive neurons corresponds to the mental spotlight of attention via modulation of ongoing visual processing.

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