A visual scene is typically crowded containing many different objects which cannot all be processed simultaneously by our visual system. Attention is employed to select behaviorally relevant stimuli and facilitate further visual processing. Studies in humans and non human primates have implicated numerous brain areas in visual attention but how activity in each one of those influences activity in other areas of the network remains largely unknown. Current theories on visual attention suggest that prefrontal and parietal cortical brain areas are part of an attentional control system. Accordingly, it has been suggested that these areas provide “top-down” signals that modulate sensory processing in early visual areas in favor of attended objects and/or locations that require further analysis by our visual system. To test the hypothesis that the prefrontal cortex is a source of top-down signals to early visual areas we will conduct neurophysiological experiments in non human primates engaged in a behavioral task in which attention is guided on the basis of object features. We will carry out extracellular recordings in the prefrontal cortex and area V4 simultaneously in order to study how neurons across the two areas interact and how their interaction is modulated during attention. Moreover, to establish the anatomical and functional substrates that mediate attention in the prefrontal cortex and area V4 we will examine the contribution of distinct classes of neurons in attentional mechanisms. The proposed study is expected to enhance our understanding of the neural basis of selective attention and reveal more general principles of brain function. Understanding the neural basis of attentional mechanisms is critical in order to find better cures for attentional deficits that accompany cognitive impairments as well as for developing a visual prosthesis for people with visual impairments.
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