Spatial and feature-based attention in a layered cortical microcircuit model.
ABSTRACT: Directing attention to the spatial location or the distinguishing feature of a visual object modulates neuronal responses in the visual cortex and the stimulus discriminability of subjects. However, the spatial and feature-based modes of attention differently influence visual processing by changing the tuning properties of neurons. Intriguingly, neurons' tuning curves are modulated similarly across different visual areas under both these modes of attention. Here, we explored the mechanism underlying the effects of these two modes of visual attention on the orientation selectivity of visual cortical neurons. To do this, we developed a layered microcircuit model. This model describes multiple orientation-specific microcircuits sharing their receptive fields and consisting of layers 2/3, 4, 5, and 6. These microcircuits represent a functional grouping of cortical neurons and mutually interact via lateral inhibition and excitatory connections between groups with similar selectivity. The individual microcircuits receive bottom-up visual stimuli and top-down attention in different layers. A crucial assumption of the model is that feature-based attention activates orientation-specific microcircuits for the relevant feature selectively, whereas spatial attention activates all microcircuits homogeneously, irrespective of their orientation selectivity. Consequently, our model simultaneously accounts for the multiplicative scaling of neuronal responses in spatial attention and the additive modulations of orientation tuning curves in feature-based attention, which have been observed widely in various visual cortical areas. Simulations of the model predict contrasting differences between excitatory and inhibitory neurons in the two modes of attentional modulations. Furthermore, the model replicates the modulation of the psychophysical discriminability of visual stimuli in the presence of external noise. Our layered model with a biologically suggested laminar structure describes the basic circuit mechanism underlying the attention-mode specific modulations of neuronal responses and visual perception.
Project description:Selective attention enables sensory input from behaviorally relevant stimuli to be processed in greater detail, so that these stimuli can more accurately influence thoughts, actions, and future goals. Attention has been shown to modulate the spiking activity of single feature-selective neurons that encode basic stimulus properties (color, orientation, etc.). However, the combined output from many such neurons is required to form stable representations of relevant objects and little empirical work has formally investigated the relationship between attentional modulations on population responses and improvements in encoding precision. Here, we used functional MRI and voxel-based feature tuning functions to show that spatial attention induces a multiplicative scaling in orientation-selective population response profiles in early visual cortex. In turn, this multiplicative scaling correlates with an improvement in encoding precision, as evidenced by a concurrent increase in the mutual information between population responses and the orientation of attended stimuli. These data therefore demonstrate how multiplicative scaling of neural responses provides at least one mechanism by which spatial attention may improve the encoding precision of population codes. Increased encoding precision in early visual areas may then enhance the speed and accuracy of perceptual decisions computed by higher-order neural mechanisms.
Project description:Divisive normalization models of covert attention commonly use spike rate modulations as indicators of the effect of top-down attention. In addition, an increasing number of studies have shown that top-down attention increases the synchronization of neuronal oscillations as well, particularly in gamma-band frequencies (25-100?Hz). Although modulations of spike rate and synchronous oscillations are not mutually exclusive as mechanisms of attention, there has thus far been little effort to integrate these concepts into a single framework of attention. Here, we aim to provide such a unified framework by expanding the normalization model of attention with a multi-level hierarchical structure and a time dimension; allowing the simulation of a recently reported backward progression of attentional effects along the visual cortical hierarchy. A simple cascade of normalization models simulating different cortical areas is shown to cause signal degradation and a loss of stimulus discriminability over time. To negate this degradation and ensure stable neuronal stimulus representations, we incorporate a kind of oscillatory phase entrainment into our model that has previously been proposed as the "communication-through-coherence" (CTC) hypothesis. Our analysis shows that divisive normalization and oscillation models can complement each other in a unified account of the neural mechanisms of selective visual attention. The resulting hierarchical normalization and oscillation (HNO) model reproduces several additional spatial and temporal aspects of attentional modulation and predicts a latency effect on neuronal responses as a result of cued attention.
Project description:Human observers make large rapid eye movements-saccades-to bring behaviorally relevant information into the fovea, where spatial resolution is high. In some visual tasks [1-4], performance at the location of a saccade target improves before the eyes move. Although these findings provide evidence that extra-retinal signals evoked by saccades can enhance visual perception, it remains unknown whether and how presaccadic modulations change the processing of feature information and thus modulate visual representations. To answer this question, one must go beyond the use of methods that only probe performance accuracy (d') in different tasks. Here, using a psychophysical reverse correlation approach [5-8], we investigated how saccade preparation influences the processing of orientation and spatial frequency-two building blocks of early vision. We found that saccade preparation selectively enhanced the gain of high spatial frequency information and narrowed orientation tuning at the upcoming saccade landing position. These modulations were time locked to saccade onset, peaking right before the eyes moved (-50-0 ms). Moreover, merely deploying covert attention within the same temporal interval without preparing a saccade did not alter performance. The observed presaccadic tuning changes may correspond to the presaccadic enhancement [9-11] and receptive field shifts reported in neurophysiological studies [12-14]. Saccade preparation may support transaccadic integration by reshaping the representation of the saccade target to be more fovea-like just before the eyes move. The presaccadic modulations on spatial frequency and orientation processing illustrate a strong perception-action coupling by revealing that the visual system dynamically reshapes feature selectivity contingent upon eye movements.
Project description:Voluntary and stimulus-driven shifts of attention can modulate the representation of behaviorally relevant stimuli in early areas of visual cortex. In turn, attended items are processed faster and more accurately, facilitating the selection of appropriate behavioral responses. Information processing is also strongly influenced by past experience and recent studies indicate that the learned value of a stimulus can influence relatively late stages of decision making such as the process of selecting a motor response. However, the learned value of a stimulus can also influence the magnitude of cortical responses in early sensory areas such as V1 and S1. These early effects of stimulus value are presumed to improve the quality of sensory representations; however, the nature of these modulations is not clear. They could reflect nonspecific changes in response amplitude associated with changes in general arousal or they could reflect a bias in population responses so that high-value features are represented more robustly. To examine this issue, subjects performed a two-alternative forced choice paradigm with a variable-interval payoff schedule to dynamically manipulate the relative value of two stimuli defined by their orientation (one was rotated clockwise from vertical, the other counterclockwise). Activation levels in visual cortex were monitored using functional MRI and feature-selective voxel tuning functions while subjects performed the behavioral task. The results suggest that value not only modulates the relative amplitude of responses in early areas of human visual cortex, but also sharpens the response profile across the populations of feature-selective neurons that encode the critical stimulus feature (orientation). Moreover, changes in space- or feature-based attention cannot easily explain the results because representations of both the selected and the unselected stimuli underwent a similar feature-selective modulation. This sharpening in the population response profile could theoretically improve the probability of correctly discriminating high-value stimuli from low-value alternatives.
Project description:Sensory processing occurs in neocortical microcircuits in which synaptic connectivity is highly structured and excitatory neurons form subnetworks that process related sensory information. However, the developmental mechanisms underlying the formation of functionally organized connectivity in cortical microcircuits remain unknown. Here we directly relate patterns of excitatory synaptic connectivity to visual response properties of neighbouring layer?2/3 pyramidal neurons in mouse visual cortex at different postnatal ages, using two-photon calcium imaging in vivo and multiple whole-cell recordings in vitro. Although neural responses were already highly selective for visual stimuli at eye opening, neurons responding to similar visual features were not yet preferentially connected, indicating that the emergence of feature selectivity does not depend on the precise arrangement of local synaptic connections. After eye opening, local connectivity reorganized extensively: more connections formed selectively between neurons with similar visual responses and connections were eliminated between visually unresponsive neurons, but the overall connectivity rate did not change. We propose a sequential model of cortical microcircuit development based on activity-dependent mechanisms of plasticity whereby neurons first acquire feature preference by selecting feedforward inputs before the onset of sensory experience--a process that may be facilitated by early electrical coupling between neuronal subsets--and then patterned input drives the formation of functional subnetworks through a redistribution of recurrent synaptic connections.
Project description:Although it is well established that feature-based attention (FBA) can enhance an attended feature, how it modulates unattended features remains less clear. Previous studies have generally supported either a graded profile as predicted by the feature-similarity gain model or a nonmonotonic profile predicted by the surround suppression model. To reconcile these different views, we systematically measured the attentional profile in three basic feature dimensions-orientation, motion direction, and spatial frequency. In three experiments, we instructed participants to detect a coherent feature signal against noise under attentional or neutral condition. Our results support a nonmonotonic hybrid model of attentional modulation consisting of feature-similarity gain and surround suppression for orientation and motion direction. For spatial frequency, we also found a similar nonmonotonic profile for higher frequencies than the attended frequency, but a lack of attentional modulation for lower frequencies than the attended frequency. The current findings can reconcile the discrepancies in the literature and suggest the hybrid model as a new framework for attentional modulation in feature space. In addition, a computational model incorporating known properties of spatial frequency channels and attentional modulations at the neural level reproduced the asymmetric attentional modulation, thus revealing a connection between surround suppression and the basic neural architecture of an early visual system.
Project description:In this computational work, we investigated gamma-band synchronization across cortical circuits associated with selective attention. The model explicitly instantiates a reciprocally connected loop of spiking neurons between a sensory-type (area MT) and an executive-type (prefrontal/parietal) cortical circuit (the source area for top-down attentional signaling). Moreover, unlike models in which neurons behave as clock-like oscillators, in our model single-cell firing is highly irregular (close to Poisson), while local field potential exhibits a population rhythm. In this "sparsely synchronized oscillation" regime, the model reproduces and clarifies multiple observations from behaving animals. Top-down attentional inputs have a profound effect on network oscillatory dynamics while only modestly affecting single-neuron spiking statistics. In addition, attentional synchrony modulations are highly selective: interareal neuronal coherence occurs only when there is a close match between the preferred feature of neurons, the attended feature, and the presented stimulus, a prediction that is experimentally testable. When interareal coherence was abolished, attention-induced gain modulations of sensory neurons were slightly reduced. Therefore, our model reconciles the rate and synchronization effects, and suggests that interareal coherence contributes to large-scale neuronal computation in the brain through modest enhancement of rate modulations as well as a pronounced attention-specific enhancement of neural synchrony.
Project description:As an important animal model to study the relationship between behaviour and neural activity, the mouse is able to perform a variety of visual tasks, such as orientation discrimination and contrast detection. However, it is not clear how stimulus contrast influences the performance of orientation discrimination in mice. In this study, we used two task designs, two-alternative forced choice (2AFC) and go/no-go, to examine the performance of mice to discriminate two orthogonal orientations at different contrasts. We found that the performance tended to increase with contrast, and the performance at high contrast was better when the stimulus set contained a single contrast than multiple contrasts. Physiological experiments in V1 showed that neural discriminability of two orthogonal orientations increased with contrast. Furthermore, orientation discriminability of V1 neurons at high contrast was higher in the single than in the multiple contrast condition, largely due to smaller response variance in the single contrast condition. Thus, the performance of mice to discriminate orientations at high contrast is adapted to the contrast range in the stimuli, partly attributed to the contrast-range dependent capacity of V1 neurons to discriminate orientations.
Project description:Previous neurophysiological studies suggest that attention can alter the baseline or gain of neurons in extrastriate visual areas but that it cannot change tuning. This suggests that neurons in visual cortex function as labeled lines whose meaning does not depend on task demands. To test this common assumption, we used a system identification approach to measure spatial frequency and orientation tuning in area V4 during two attentionally demanding visual search tasks, one that required fixation and one that allowed free viewing during search. We found that spatial attention modulates response baseline and gain but does not alter tuning, consistent with previous reports. In contrast, feature-based attention often shifts neuronal tuning. These tuning shifts are inconsistent with the labeled-line model and tend to enhance responses to stimulus features that distinguish the search target. Our data suggest that V4 neurons behave as matched filters that are dynamically tuned to optimize visual search.
Project description:Our perceptions are often shaped by focusing our attention towards specific features or periods of time irrespective of location. Here we explore the physiological bases of these non-spatial forms of attention by imaging brain activity while subjects perform a challenging change-detection task. The task employs a continuously varying visual stimulus that, for any moment in time, selectively activates functionally distinct subpopulations of primary visual cortex (V1) neurons. When subjects are cued to the timing and nature of the change, the mapping of orientation preference across V1 systematically shifts towards the cued stimulus just prior to its appearance. A simple linear model can explain this shift: attentional changes are selectively targeted towards neural subpopulations, representing the attended feature at the times the feature was anticipated. Our results suggest that featural attention is mediated by a linear change in the responses of task-appropriate neurons across cortex during appropriate periods of time.