In crowded visual scenes, attention is needed to selectively process information from relevant stimuli and to filter out irrelevant distracters. Accordingly, studies in humans and animals have shown that neurons in several different brain structures show enhanced responses when attention is directed into their receptive fields. However, there is still little understanding of how these ubiquitous attentional effects are actually generated through the interactions among these structures, particularly when the attentional cues arise from cognitive factors and task demands. To design an effective neural prosthesis or to treat people with attentional disorders, we need a better understanding of attention at the systems level. Three key structures thought to provide feedback to visual cortex that mediates attentional effects are the prefrontal cortex, the posterior parietal cortex and the pulvinar. In the planned experiments, we will compare the roles of each of these three structures in providing feedback to area V4 in visual cortex. Area V4 plays a central role in the relay of visual information along the ventral stream that underlies object recognition, and we have previously shown that V4 neuronal responses are modulated by attention and that damage to V4 causes attentional impairments. We have also recently shown that neurons in prefrontal cortex have attentional latencies that are short enough to mediate some of the attentional effects on V4 neuronal responses, and that prefrontal neurons have coherent activity with cells in V4. This coherent activity is time-shifted across a wide range of frequencies by about 10 ms, which may be the critical time to allow for functional interactions.
In Aim 1, we will add recordings from the posterior parietal cortex to the prefrontal recordings, to compare the roles of these two structures in modulating activity in V4. The pulvinar provides an alternative anatomical route for signals from prefrontal and parietal cortex to influence V4. Therefore, in Aim 2, we will record simultaneously in the pulvinar and area V4, to test whether pulvinar neuronal properties are consistent with this feedback role. However, neurophysiological recordings alone can only provide evidence for correlations in activity, not for causality. Therefore, in Aim 3, we will supplement the neural recordings with suppression of activity in prefrontal and parietal cortex and pulvinar, to test causal hypotheses about the role of feedback from each structure in modulating V4 responses. For these experiments, we will use techniques that we and our collaborators have recently developed for the optogenetic suppression of neural activity using the proton pump, Arch-T, which is delivered by lentivirus. With Arch-T we will be able to suppress activity with resolution in the tens of milliseconds, at critical time points, to gain new mechanistic insights into the feedback to V4. In total, we expect these studies to give us the best account so far of how the interactions among multiple brain structures leads to effective visual processing with attention.

Public Health Relevance

The aims of the project are to give us mechanistic, biological insights into how attention controls our visual processing abilities. These new insights will aid in the development of a neuro-prothesis for blindness and will also help us develop new treatments for people suffering attentional disorders.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Eye Institute (NEI)
Research Project (R01)
Project #
Application #
Study Section
Cognitive Neuroscience Study Section (COG)
Program Officer
Araj, Houmam H
Project Start
Project End
Budget Start
Budget End
Support Year
Fiscal Year
Total Cost
Indirect Cost
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Organized Research Units
United States
Zip Code
Acker, Leah C; Pino, Erica N; Boyden, Edward S et al. (2017) Large Volume, Behaviorally-relevant Illumination for Optogenetics in Non-human Primates. J Vis Exp :
Galvan, Adriana; Stauffer, William R; Acker, Leah et al. (2017) Nonhuman Primate Optogenetics: Recent Advances and Future Directions. J Neurosci 37:10894-10903
Acker, Leah; Pino, Erica N; Boyden, Edward S et al. (2016) FEF inactivation with improved optogenetic methods. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 113:E7297-E7306
Zhou, Huihui; Schafer, Robert John; Desimone, Robert (2016) Pulvinar-Cortex Interactions in Vision and Attention. Neuron 89:209-20
Mulliken, Grant H; Bichot, Narcisse P; Ghadooshahy, Azriel et al. (2015) Custom-fit radiolucent cranial implants for neurophysiological recording and stimulation. J Neurosci Methods 241:146-54
Brunet, Nicolas M; Bosman, Conrado A; Vinck, Martin et al. (2014) Stimulus repetition modulates gamma-band synchronization in primate visual cortex. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 111:3626-31
Ungerleider, Leslie G; Galkin, Thelma W; Desimone, Robert et al. (2014) Subcortical projections of area V2 in the macaque. J Cogn Neurosci 26:1220-33
Landman, Rogier; Sharma, Jitendra; Sur, Mriganka et al. (2014) Effect of distracting faces on visual selective attention in the monkey. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 111:18037-42
Gattass, Ricardo; Galkin, Thelma W; Desimone, Robert et al. (2014) Subcortical connections of area V4 in the macaque. J Comp Neurol 522:1941-65
Gregoriou, Georgia G; Rossi, Andrew F; Ungerleider, Leslie G et al. (2014) Lesions of prefrontal cortex reduce attentional modulation of neuronal responses and synchrony in V4. Nat Neurosci 17:1003-11

Showing the most recent 10 out of 26 publications