Boshra, R., & Kastner, S. (2022). Attention control in the primate brain. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 76. Publisher’s Version: Attention control in the primate brain

Attention is fundamental to all cognition. In the primate brain, it is implemented by a large-scale network that consists of areas spanning across all major lobes, also including subcortical regions. Classical attention accounts assume that control over the selection process in this network is exerted by ‘top-down’ mechanisms in the fronto-parietal cortex that influence sensory representations via feedback signals. More recent studies have expanded this view of attentional control. In this review, we will start from a traditional top-down account of attention control, and then discuss more recent findings on feature-based attention, thalamic influences, temporal network dynamics, and behavioral dynamics that collectively lead to substantial modifications. We outline how the different emerging accounts can be reconciled and integrated into a unified theory.

Recent evidence suggests that visual attention alternately samples two behaviourally relevant objects at approximately 4 Hz, rhythmically shifting between the objects. Whether similar attentional rhythms exist in other sensory modalities, however, is not yet clear. We therefore adapted and extended an established paradigm to investigate visual and potential auditory attentional rhythms, as well as possible interactions, on both a behavioural (detection performance, N = 33) and a neural level (EEG, N = 18). The results during unimodal attention demonstrate that both visual- and auditory-target detection fluctuate at frequencies of approximately 4–8 Hz, confirming that attentional rhythms are not specific to visual processing. The EEG recordings provided evidence of oscillatory activity that underlies these behavioural effects. At right and left occipital EEG electrodes, we detected counter-phasic theta-band activity (4–8 Hz), mirroring behavioural evidence of alternating sampling between the objects presented right and left of central fixation, respectively. Similarly, alpha-band activity as a signature of relatively suppressed sensory encoding showed a theta-rhythmic, counter-phasic change in power. Moreover, these theta-rhythmic changes in alpha power were predictive of behavioural performance in both sensory modalities. Overall, the present findings provide a new perspective on the multimodal rhythmicity of attention.


The pulvinar is the largest nucleus in the primate thalamus and has topographically organized connections with multiple cortical areas, thereby forming extensive cortico-pulvino-cortical input–output loops. Neurophysiological studies have suggested a role for these transthalamic pathways in regulating information transmission between cortical areas. However, evidence for a causal role of the pulvinar in regulating cortico–cortical interactions is sparse and it is not known whether pulvinar's influences on cortical networks are task-dependent or, alternatively, reflect more basic large-scale network properties that maintain functional connectivity across networks regardless of active task demands. In the current study, under passive viewing conditions, we conducted simultaneous electrophysiological recordings from ventral (area V4) and dorsal (lateral intraparietal area [LIP]) nodes of macaque visual system, while reversibly inactivating the dorsal part of the lateral pulvinar (dPL), which shares common anatomical connectivity with V4 and LIP, to probe a causal role of the pulvinar. Our results show a significant reduction in local field potential phase coherence between LIP and V4 in low frequencies (4–15 Hz) following muscimol injection into dPL. At the local level, no significant changes in firing rates or LFP power were observed in LIP or in V4 following dPL inactivation. Synchronization between pulvinar spikes and cortical LFP phase decreased in low frequencies (4–15 Hz) both in LIP and V4, while the low frequency synchronization between LIP spikes and pulvinar phase increased. These results indicate a causal role for pulvinar in synchronizing neural activity between interconnected cortical nodes of a large-scale network, even in the absence of an active task state.
There has been little evidence linking changes in spiking activity that occur prior to a spatially predictable target (i.e., prior to target selection) to behavioral outcomes, despite such preparatory changes being widely assumed to enhance the sensitivity of sensory processing. We simultaneously recorded from frontal and parietal nodes of the attention network while macaques performed a spatial cueing task. When anticipating a spatially predictable target, different patterns of coupling between spike timing and the oscillatory phase in local field potentials—but not changes in spike rate—were predictive of different behavioral outcomes. These behaviorally relevant differences in local and between-region synchronization occurred among specific cell types that were defined based on their sensory and motor properties, providing insight into the mechanisms underlying enhanced sensory processing prior to target selection. We propose that these changes in neural synchronization reflect differential anticipatory engagement of the network nodes and functional units that shape attention-related sampling.


While research in previous decades demonstrated a link between the pulvinar nucleus of the thalamus and visual selective attention, the pulvinar’s specific functional role has remained elusive. However, methodological advances in electrophysiological recordings in non-human primates, including simultaneous recordings in multiple brain regions, have recently begun to reveal the pulvinar’s functional contributions to selective attention. These new findings suggest that the pulvinar is critical for the efficient transmission of sensory information within and between cortical regions, both synchronizing cortical activity across brain regions and controlling cortical excitability. These new findings further suggest that the pulvinar’s influence on cortical processing is embedded in a dynamic selection process that balances sensory and motor functions within the large-scale network that directs selective attention.
Usrey, W., & Kastner, S. (2020). Functions of the visual thalamus in selective attention. In The Cognitive Neurosciences (6thth ed., Vols. 367). MIT Press. Publisher’s Version: Functions of the visual thalamus in selective attention
Selective attention is a cognitive process that allows an organism to direct processing resources preferntially to behaviorally relevant stimuli. This is important since attention is a limited resource, and stimulus detection and discrimination are improved with selective attention. Although the neural mechanisms for selective attention have traditionally been thought to reside solely within the cortex, emerging evidence indicates that this view should be reassessed, as subcortical structures, including the thalamus, also play a significant role. This chapter focuses on thalamocortical network interactions and how they contribute to selective attention.
Spatial attention is comprised of neural mechanisms that boost sensory processing at a behaviorally relevant location while filtering out competing information. The present review examines functional specialization in the network of brain regions that directs such preferential processing. This attention network includes both cortical (e.g., frontal and parietal cortices) and subcortical (e.g., the superior colliculus and the pulvinar nucleus of the thalamus) structures. Here, we piece together existing evidence that these various nodes of the attention network have dissociable functional roles by synthesizing results from electrophysiology and neuroimaging studies. We describe functional specialization across several dimensions (e.g., at different processing stages and within different behavioral contexts), while focusing on spatial attention as a dynamic process that unfolds over time. Functional contributions from each node of the attention network can change on a moment-to-moment timescale, providing the necessary cognitive flexibility for sampling from highly dynamic environments.


Fiebelkorn, I., & Kastner, S. (2019). A Rhythmic Theory of Attention. Trends in Cognitive Science. Publisher’s Version: A Rhythmic Theory of Attention
Recent evidence has demonstrated that environmental sampling is a fundamentally rhythmic process. Both perceptual sensitivity during covert spatial attention and the probability of overt exploratory movements are tethered to theta-band activity (3–8 Hz) in the attention network. The fronto-parietal part of this network is positioned at the nexus of sensory and motor functions, directing two tightly coupled processes related to environmental exploration: preferential routing of sensory input and saccadic eye movements. We propose that intrinsic theta rhythms temporally resolve potential functional conflicts by periodically reweighting functional connections between higher-order brain regions and either sensory or motor regions. This rhythmic reweighting alternately promotes either sampling at a behaviorally relevant location (i.e., sensory functions) or shifting to another location (i.e., motor functions).
Spatial attention is discontinuous, sampling behaviorally relevant locations in theta-rhythmic cycles (3–6 Hz). Underlying this rhythmic sampling are intrinsic theta oscillations in frontal and parietal cortices that provide a clocking mechanism for two alternating attentional states that are associated with either engagement at the presently attended location (and enhanced perceptual sensitivity) or disengagement (and diminished perceptual sensitivity). It has remained unclear, however, how these theta-dependent states are coordinated across the large-scale network that directs spatial attention. The pulvinar is a candidate for such coordination, having been previously shown to regulate cortical activity. Here, we examined pulvino-cortical interactions during theta-rhythmic sampling by simultaneously recording from macaque frontal eye fields (FEF), lateral intraparietal area (LIP), and pulvinar. Neural activity propagated from pulvinar to cortex during periods of engagement, and from cortex to pulvinar during periods of disengagement. A rhythmic reweighting of pulvino-cortical interactions thus defines functional dissociations in the attention network.
Selective attention is crucial for navigating natural visual environments, which are often crowded with too many objects to process simultaneously. Research over the past few decades has led to influential theories describing neural mechanisms underlying selective attention in the adult brain. However, how children come to achieve adult-level selective attention functions has been explored much less. Here, we discuss specifically the existing literature on visuo-spatial attention development based on a theoretical framework that is grounded in biased competition theory, while integrating more recent evidence from neuroimaging and electrophysiology. In this forward-looking review, we emphasize that selective attention functions operate through interactions between the developing sensory cortices and fronto-parietal control network. Our framework may prove useful in probing selective attention functions in typical and atypical development.
The selection of behaviorally relevant information from cluttered visual scenes (often referred to as “attention”) is mediated by a cortical large-scale network consisting of areas in occipital, temporal, parietal, and frontal cortex that is organized into a functional hierarchy of feedforward and feedback pathways. In the human brain, little is known about the temporal dynamics of attentional processing from studies at the mesoscopic level of electrocorticography (ECoG), that combines millisecond temporal resolution with precise anatomical localization of recording sites. We analyzed high-frequency broadband responses (HFB) responses from 626 electrodes implanted in 8 epilepsy patients who performed a spatial attention task. Electrode locations were reconstructed using a probabilistic atlas of the human visual system. HFB responses showed high spatial selectivity and tuning, constituting ECoG response fields (RFs), within and outside the topographic visual system. In accordance with monkey physiology studies, both RF widths and onset latencies increased systematically across the visual processing hierarchy. We used the spatial specificity of HFB responses to quantitatively study spatial attention effects and their temporal dynamics to probe a hierarchical top-down model suggesting that feedback signals back propagate the visual processing hierarchy. Consistent with such a model, the strengths of attentional modulation were found to be greater and modulation latencies to be shorter in posterior parietal cortex, middle temporal cortex and ventral extrastriate cortex compared with early visual cortex. However, inconsistent with such a model, attention effects were weaker and more delayed in anterior parietal and frontal cortex.


Fiebelkorn, I., & Kastner, S. (2018). The Puzzling Pulvinar. Neuron.
The pulvinar influences communication between cortical areas. We use fMRI to characterize the functional organization of the human pulvinar and its coupling with cortex. The ventral pulvinar is sensitive to spatial position and moment-to-moment transitions in visual statistics, but also differentiates visual categories such as faces and scenes. The dorsal pulvinar is modulated by spatial attention and is sensitive to the temporal structure of visual input. Cortical areas are functionally coupled with discrete pulvinar regions. The spatial organization of this coupling reflects the functional specializations and anatomical distances between cortical areas. The ventral pulvinar is functionally coupled with occipital-temporal cortices. The dorsal pulvinar is functionally coupled with frontal, parietal, and cingulate cortices, including the attention, default mode, and human-specific tool networks. These differences mirror the principles governing cortical organization of dorsal and ventral cortical visual streams. These results provide a functional framework for how the pulvinar facilitates and regulates cortical processing.
Helfrich, R. F., Fiebelkorn, I. C., Szczepanski, S. M., Lin, J. J., Parvizi, J., Knight, R. T., & Kastner, S. (2018). Neural Mechanisms of Sustained Attention Are Rhythmic. Neuron, 99(4), 854-865.
Classic models of attention suggest that sustained neural firing constitutes a neural correlate of sustained attention. However, recent evidence indicates that behavioral performance fluctuates over time, exhibiting temporal dynamics that closely resemble the spectral features of ongoing, oscillatory brain activity. Therefore, it has been proposed that periodic neuronal excitability fluctuations might shape attentional allocation and overt behavior. However, empirical evidence to support this notion is sparse. Here, we address this issue by examining data from large-scale subdural recordings, using two different attention tasks that track perceptual ability at high temporal resolution. Our results reveal that perceptual outcome varies as a function of the theta phase even in states of sustained spatial attention. These effects were robust at the single-subject level, suggesting that rhythmic perceptual sampling is an inherent property of the frontoparietal attention network. Collectively, these findings support the notion that the functional architecture of top-down attention is intrinsically rhythmic.
Milham, ., Ai, ., Koo, ., Xu, ., Balezeau, ., Baxter, M., Croxson, P., Damatac, C., Harel, ., Friewald, ., Griffiths, T., Everling, ., Jung, ., Kastner, ., Leopold, D., Mars, R., Menon, R., Messinger, ., Morrison, J., … Schroeder, C. (2018). An Open Resource for Non-human Primate Imaging. Neuron, 100, 61-74. Publisher’s Version: An Open Resource for Non-human Primate Imaging
Non-human primate neuroimaging is a rapidly growing area of research that promises to transform and scale translational and cross-species comparative neuroscience. Unfortunately, the technological and methodological advances of the past two decades have outpaced the accrual of data, which is particularly challenging given the relatively few centers that have the necessary facilities and capabilities. The PRIMatE Data Exchange (PRIME-DE) addresses this challenge by aggregating independently acquired non-human primate magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) datasets and openly sharing them via the International Neuroimaging Data-sharing Initiative (INDI). Here, we present the rationale, design, and procedures for the PRIME-DE consortium, as well as the initial release, consisting of 25 independent data collections aggregated across 22 sites (total = 217 non-human primates). We also outline the unique pitfalls and challenges that should be considered in the analysis of non-human primate MRI datasets, including providing automated quality assessment of the contributed datasets.
Classic studies of spatial attention assumed that its neural and behavioral effects were continuous over time. Recent behavioral studies have instead revealed that spatial attention leads to alternating periods of heightened or diminished perceptual sensitivity. Yet, the neural basis of these rhythmic fluctuations has remained largely unknown. We show that a dynamic interplay within the macaque frontoparietal network accounts for the rhythmic properties of spatial attention. Neural oscillations characterize functional interactions between the frontal eye fields (FEF) and the lateral intraparietal area (LIP), with theta phase (3–8 Hz) coordinating two rhythmically alternating states. The first is defined by FEF-dominated beta-band activity, associated with suppressed attentional shifts, and LIP-dominated gamma-band activity, associated with enhanced visual processing and better behavioral performance. The second is defined by LIP-specific alpha-band activity, associated with attenuated visual processing and worse behavioral performance. Our findings reveal how network-level interactions organize environmental sampling into rhythmic cycles.
Parvizi, ., & Kastner, . (2018). Promises and limitations of human intracranial electroencephalography. Nature Neuroscience, 21, 474-483.
Intracranial electroencephalography (iEEG), also known as electrocorticography when using subdural grid electrodes or stereotactic EEG when using depth electrodes, is blossoming in various fields of human neuroscience. In this article, we highlight the potentials of iEEG in exploring functions of the human brain while also considering its limitations. The iEEG signal provides anatomically precise information about the selective engagement of neuronal populations at the millimeter scale and the temporal dynamics of their engagement at the millisecond scale. If several nodes of a given network are monitored simultaneously with implanted electrodes, the iEEG signals can also reveal information about functional interactions within and across networks during different stages of neural computation. As such, human iEEG can complement other methods of neuroscience beyond simply replicating what is already known, or can be known, from noninvasive lines of research in humans or from invasive recordings in nonhuman mammalian brains.


Halassa, M., & Kastner, . (2017). Thalamic functions in distributed cognitive control. Nature Neuroscience, 20, 1669-1679.
Cognition can be conceptualized as a set of algorithmic control functions whose real-time deployment determines how an organism stores and uses information to guide thought and action. A subset of these functions is required for goal-directed selection and amplification of sensory signals-broadly referred to as attention-and for its flexible control and its interaction with processes such as working memory and decision making. While the contribution of recurrent cortical microcircuits to cognition has been extensively studied, the role of the thalamus is just beginning to be elucidated. Here we highlight recent studies across rodents and primates showing how thalamus contributes to attentional control. In addition to high-fidelity information relay to or between cortical regions, thalamic circuits shift and sustain functional interactions within and across cortical areas. This thalamic process enables rapid coordination of spatially segregated cortical computations, thereby constructing task-relevant functional networks. Because such function may be critical for cognitive flexibility, clarifying its mechanisms will likely expand our basic understanding of cognitive control and its perturbation in disease.
Popov, T., Kastner, S., & Jensen, O. (2017). FEF-Controlled Alpha Delay Activity Precedes Stimulus-Induced Gamma-Band Activity in Visual Cortex. J Neurosci, 37, 4117-4127. (Original work published 2017)
Recent findings in the visual system of nonhuman primates have demonstrated an important role of gamma-band activity (40-100 Hz) in the feedforward flow of sensory information, whereas feedback control appears to be established dynamically by oscillations in the alpha (8-13 Hz) and beta (13-18 Hz) bands (van Kerkoerle et al., 2014; Bastos et al., 2015). It is not clear, however, how alpha oscillations are controlled and how they interact with the flow of visual information mediated by gamma-band activity. Using noninvasive human MEG recordings in subjects performing a visuospatial attention task, we show that fluctuations in alpha power during a delay period in a spatial attention task preceded subsequent stimulus-driven gamma-band activity. Importantly, these interactions correlated with behavioral performance. Using Granger analysis, we further show that the right frontal-eye field (rFEF) exerted feedback control of the visual alpha oscillations. Our findings suggest that alpha oscillations controlled by the FEF route cortical information flow by modulating gamma-band activity.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Visual perception relies on a feedforward flow of information from sensory regions, which is modulated by a feedback drive. We have identified the neuronal dynamics supporting integration of the feedforward and feedback information. Alpha oscillations in early visual regions reflect feedback control when spatial attention is allocated and this control is exercised by the right frontal eye field. Importantly, the alpha-band activity predicted both performance and activity in the gamma band. In particular, gamma activity was modulated by the phase of the alpha oscillations. These findings provide novel insight into how the brain operates as a network and suggest that the integration of feedforward and feedback information is implemented by cross-frequency interactions between slow and fast neuronal oscillations.
Bonnefond, M., Kastner, S., & Jensen, O. (2017). Communication between Brain Areas Based on Nested Oscillations. ENeuro, 4. (Original work published 2017)
Unraveling how brain regions communicate is crucial for understanding how the brain processes external and internal information. Neuronal oscillations within and across brain regions have been proposed to play a crucial role in this process. Two main hypotheses have been suggested for routing of information based on oscillations, namely communication through coherence and gating by inhibition. Here, we propose a framework unifying these two hypotheses that is based on recent empirical findings. We discuss a theory in which communication between two regions is established by phase synchronization of oscillations at lower frequencies (<25 Hz), which serve as temporal reference frame for information carried by high-frequency activity (>40 Hz). Our framework, consistent with numerous recent empirical findings, posits that cross-frequency interactions are essential for understanding how large-scale cognitive and perceptual networks operate.
Kastner, ., Chen, Q., Jeong, ., & Mruczek, . (2017). A brief comparative review of primate posterior parietal cortex: A novel hypothesis on the human toolmaker. Neuropsychologia, 105, 123-34. (Original work published 2017)
The primate visual system contains two major cortical pathways: a ventral-temporal pathway that has been associated with object processing and recognition, and a dorsal-parietal pathway that has been associated with spatial processing and action guidance. Our understanding of the role of the dorsal pathway, in particular, has greatly evolved within the framework of the two-pathway hypothesis since its original conception. Here, we present a comparative review of the primate dorsal pathway in humans and monkeys based on electrophysiological, neuroimaging, neuropsychological, and neuroanatomical studies. We consider similarities and differences across species in terms of the topographic representation of visual space; specificity for eye, reaching, or grasping movements; multi-modal response properties; and the representation of objects and tools. We also review the relative anatomical location of functionally- and topographically-defined regions of the posterior parietal cortex. An emerging theme from this comparative analysis is that non-spatial information is represented to a greater degree, and with increased complexity, in the human dorsal visual system. We propose that non-spatial information in the primate parietal cortex contributes to the perception-to-action system aimed at manipulating objects in peripersonal space. In humans, this network has expanded in multiple ways, including the development of a dorsal object vision system mirroring the complexity of the ventral stream, the integration of object information with parietal working memory systems, and the emergence of tool-specific object representations in the anterior intraparietal sulcus and regions of the inferior parietal lobe. We propose that these evolutionary changes have enabled the emergence of human-specific behaviors, such as the sophisticated use of tools.
Kastner, S., & Knight, R. (2017). Bringing Kids into the Scientific Review Process. Neuron, 93, 12-14. (Original work published 2017)
Frontiers for Young Minds puts kids in charge of scientific publications by having them control the review process. This provides kids the ability to shape the way science is taught and to better understand the scientific method.


Kaster, S., & Knight, R. T. (2016). Bringing Kids into the Scientific Review Process. Neuron, 93(1).
Frontiers for Young Minds puts kids in charge of scientific publications by having them control the review process. This provides kids the ability to shape the way science is taught and to better understand the scientific method.
Keane, B., Paterno, D., Kastner, S., & Silverstein, S. (2016). Visual integration dysfunction in schizophrenia arises by the first psychotic episode and worsens with illness duration. J Abnorm Psychol, 125, 543-9. (Original work published 2016)
Visual integration dysfunction characterizes schizophrenia, but prior studies have not yet established whether the problem arises by the first psychotic episode or worsens with illness duration. To investigate the issue, we compared chronic schizophrenia patients (SZs), first episode psychosis patients (FEs), and well-matched healthy controls on a brief but sensitive psychophysical task in which subjects attempted to locate an integrated shape embedded in noise. Task difficulty depended on the number of noise elements co-presented with the shape. For half of the experiment, the entire display was scaled down in size to produce a high spatial frequency (HSF) condition, which has been shown to worsen patient integration deficits. Catch trials-in which the circular target appeared without noise-were also added so as to confirm that subjects were paying adequate attention. We found that controls integrated contours under noisier conditions than FEs, who, in turn, integrated better than SZs. These differences, which were at times large in magnitude (d = 1.7), clearly emerged only for HSF displays. Catch trial accuracy was above 95% for each group and could not explain the foregoing differences. Prolonged illness duration predicted poorer HSF integration across patients, but age had little effect on controls, indicating that the former factor was driving the effect in patients. Taken together, a brief psychophysical task efficiently demonstrates large visual integration impairments in schizophrenia. The deficit arises by the first psychotic episode, worsens with illness duration, and may serve as a biomarker of illness progression. (PsycINFO Database Record


Wang, L., Mruczek, R., Arcaro, M., & Kastner, S. (2015). Probabilistic Maps of Visual Topography in Human Cortex. Cereb Cortex, 25, 3911-31. (Original work published 2015)
The human visual system contains an array of topographically organized regions. Identifying these regions in individual subjects is a powerful approach to group-level statistical analysis, but this is not always feasible. We addressed this limitation by generating probabilistic maps of visual topographic areas in 2 standardized spaces suitable for use with adult human brains. Using standard fMRI paradigms, we identified 25 topographic maps in a large population of individual subjects (N = 53) and transformed them into either a surface- or volume-based standardized space. Here, we provide a quantitative characterization of the inter-subject variability within and across visual regions, including the likelihood that a given point would be classified as a part of any region (full probability map) and the most probable region for any given point (maximum probability map). By evaluating the topographic organization across the whole of visual cortex, we provide new information about the organization of individual visual field maps and large-scale biases in visual field coverage. Finally, we validate each atlas for use with independent subjects. Overall, the probabilistic atlases quantify the variability of topographic representations in human cortex and provide a useful reference for comparing data across studies that can be transformed into these standard spaces.
Seidl-Rathkopf, K., Turk-Browne, N., & Kastner, S. (2015). Automatic guidance of attention during real-world visual search. Atten Percept Psychophys, 77, 1881-95. (Original work published 2015)
Looking for objects in cluttered natural environments is a frequent task in everyday life. This process can be difficult, because the features, locations, and times of appearance of relevant objects often are not known in advance. Thus, a mechanism by which attention is automatically biased toward information that is potentially relevant may be helpful. We tested for such a mechanism across five experiments by engaging participants in real-world visual search and then assessing attentional capture for information that was related to the search set but was otherwise irrelevant. Isolated objects captured attention while preparing to search for objects from the same category embedded in a scene, as revealed by lower detection performance (Experiment 1A). This capture effect was driven by a central processing bottleneck rather than the withdrawal of spatial attention (Experiment 1B), occurred automatically even in a secondary task (Experiment 2A), and reflected enhancement of matching information rather than suppression of nonmatching information (Experiment 2B). Finally, attentional capture extended to objects that were semantically associated with the target category (Experiment 3). We conclude that attention is efficiently drawn towards a wide range of information that may be relevant for an upcoming real-world visual search. This mechanism may be adaptive, allowing us to find information useful for our behavioral goals in the face of uncertainty.
Saalmann, Y., & Kastner, S. (2015). The cognitive thalamus. Front Syst Neurosci, 9, 39.
Arcaro, M., Honey, C., Mruczek, R., Kastner, S., & Hasson, U. (2015). Widespread correlation patterns of fMRI signal across visual cortex reflect eccentricity organization. Elife, 4.
The human visual system can be divided into over two-dozen distinct areas, each of which contains a topographic map of the visual field. A fundamental question in vision neuroscience is how the visual system integrates information from the environment across different areas. Using neuroimaging, we investigated the spatial pattern of correlated BOLD signal across eight visual areas on data collected during rest conditions and during naturalistic movie viewing. The correlation pattern between areas reflected the underlying receptive field organization with higher correlations between cortical sites containing overlapping representations of visual space. In addition, the correlation pattern reflected the underlying widespread eccentricity organization of visual cortex, in which the highest correlations were observed for cortical sites with iso-eccentricity representations including regions with non-overlapping representations of visual space. This eccentricity-based correlation pattern appears to be part of an intrinsic functional architecture that supports the integration of information across functionally specialized visual areas.
Scolari, M., Seidl-Rathkopf, K., & Kastner, S. (2015). Functions of the human frontoparietal attention network: Evidence from neuroimaging. Curr Opin Behav Sci, 1, 32-39. (Original work published 2015)
Human frontoparietal cortex has long been implicated as a source of attentional control. However, the mechanistic underpinnings of these control functions have remained elusive due to limitations of neuroimaging techniques that rely on anatomical landmarks to localize patterns of activation. The recent advent of topographic mapping via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has allowed the reliable parcellation of the network into 18 independent subregions in individual subjects, thereby offering unprecedented opportunities to address a wide range of empirical questions as to how mechanisms of control operate. Here, we review the human neuroimaging literature that has begun to explore space-based, feature-based, object-based and category-based attentional control within the context of topographically defined frontoparietal cortex.
Buschman, T., & Kastner, S. (2015). From Behavior to Neural Dynamics: An Integrated Theory of Attention. Neuron, 88, 127-44. (Original work published 2015)
The brain has a limited capacity and therefore needs mechanisms to selectively enhance the information most relevant to one's current behavior. We refer to these mechanisms as "attention." Attention acts by increasing the strength of selected neural representations and preferentially routing them through the brain's large-scale network. This is a critical component of cognition and therefore has been a central topic in cognitive neuroscience. Here we review a diverse literature that has studied attention at the level of behavior, networks, circuits, and neurons. We then integrate these disparate results into a unified theory of attention.
Kim, J., Aminoff, E., Kastner, S., & Behrmann, M. (2015). A Neural Basis for Developmental Topographic Disorientation. J Neurosci, 35, 12954-69. (Original work published 2015)
UNLABELLED: Developmental topographic disorientation (DTD) is a life-long condition in which affected individuals are severely impaired in navigating around their environment. Individuals with DTD have no apparent structural brain damage on conventional imaging and the neural mechanisms underlying DTD are currently unknown. Using functional and diffusion tensor imaging, we present a comprehensive neuroimaging study of an individual, J.N., with well defined DTD. J.N. has intact scene-selective responses in the parahippocampal place area (PPA), transverse occipital sulcus, and retrosplenial cortex (RSC), key regions associated with scene perception and navigation. However, detailed fMRI studies probing selective tuning properties of these regions, as well as functional connectivity, suggest that J.N.'s RSC has an atypical response profile and an atypical functional coupling to PPA compared with human controls. This deviant functional profile of RSC is not due to compromised structural connectivity. This comprehensive examination suggests that the RSC may play a key role in navigation-related processing and that an alteration of the RSC's functional properties may serve as the neural basis for DTD. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: Individuals with developmental topographic disorientation (DTD) have a life-long impairment in spatial navigation in the absence of brain damage, neurological conditions, or basic perceptual or memory deficits. Although progress has been made in identifying brain regions that subserve normal navigation, the neural basis of DTD is unknown. Using functional and structural neuroimaging and detailed statistical analyses, we investigated the brain regions typically involved in navigation and scene processing in a representative DTD individual, J.N. Although scene-selective regions were identified, closer scrutiny indicated that these areas, specifically the retrosplenial cortex (RSC), were functionally disrupted in J.N. This comprehensive examination of a representative DTD individual provides insight into the neural basis of DTD and the role of the RSC in navigation-related processing.
Arcaro, M., & Kastner, . (2015). Topographic organization of areas V3 and V4 and its relation to supra-areal organization of the primate visual system. Vis Neurosci, 32, E014. (Original work published 2015)
Areas V3 and V4 are commonly thought of as individual entities in the primate visual system, based on definition criteria such as their representation of visual space, connectivity, functional response properties, and relative anatomical location in cortex. Yet, large-scale functional and anatomical organization patterns not only emphasize distinctions within each area, but also links across visual cortex. Specifically, the visuotopic organization of V3 and V4 appears to be part of a larger, supra-areal organization, clustering these areas with early visual areas V1 and V2. In addition, connectivity patterns across visual cortex appear to vary within these areas as a function of their supra-areal eccentricity organization. This complicates the traditional view of these regions as individual functional "areas." Here, we will review the criteria for defining areas V3 and V4 and will discuss functional and anatomical studies in humans and monkeys that emphasize the integration of individual visual areas into broad, supra-areal clusters that work in concert for a common computational goal. Specifically, we propose that the visuotopic organization of V3 and V4, which provides the criteria for differentiating these areas, also unifies these areas into the supra-areal organization of early visual cortex. We propose that V3 and V4 play a critical role in this supra-areal organization by filtering information about the visual environment along parallel pathways across higher-order cortex.
Arcaro, M., Pinsk, M., & Kastner, S. (2015). The Anatomical and Functional Organization of the Human Visual Pulvinar. J Neurosci, 35, 9848-71. (Original work published 2015)
UNLABELLED: The pulvinar is the largest nucleus in the primate thalamus and contains extensive, reciprocal connections with visual cortex. Although the anatomical and functional organization of the pulvinar has been extensively studied in old and new world monkeys, little is known about the organization of the human pulvinar. Using high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging at 3 T, we identified two visual field maps within the ventral pulvinar, referred to as vPul1 and vPul2. Both maps contain an inversion of contralateral visual space with the upper visual field represented ventrally and the lower visual field represented dorsally. vPul1 and vPul2 border each other at the vertical meridian and share a representation of foveal space with iso-eccentricity lines extending across areal borders. Additional, coarse representations of contralateral visual space were identified within ventral medial and dorsal lateral portions of the pulvinar. Connectivity analyses on functional and diffusion imaging data revealed a strong distinction in thalamocortical connectivity between the dorsal and ventral pulvinar. The two maps in the ventral pulvinar were most strongly connected with early and extrastriate visual areas. Given the shared eccentricity representation and similarity in cortical connectivity, we propose that these two maps form a distinct visual field map cluster and perform related functions. The dorsal pulvinar was most strongly connected with parietal and frontal areas. The functional and anatomical organization observed within the human pulvinar was similar to the organization of the pulvinar in other primate species. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT: The anatomical organization and basic response properties of the visual pulvinar have been extensively studied in nonhuman primates. Yet, relatively little is known about the functional and anatomical organization of the human pulvinar. Using neuroimaging, we found multiple representations of visual space within the ventral human pulvinar and extensive topographically organized connectivity with visual cortex. This organization is similar to other nonhuman primates and provides additional support that the general organization of the pulvinar is consistent across the primate phylogenetic tree. These results suggest that the human pulvinar, like other primates, is well positioned to regulate corticocortical communication.


Peelen, M., & Kastner, S. (2014). Attention in the real world: toward understanding its neural basis. Trends Cogn Sci, 18, 242-50. (Original work published 2014)
The efficient selection of behaviorally relevant objects from cluttered environments supports our everyday goals. Attentional selection has typically been studied in search tasks involving artificial and simplified displays. Although these studies have revealed important basic principles of attention, they do not explain how the brain efficiently selects familiar objects in complex and meaningful real-world scenes. Findings from recent neuroimaging studies indicate that real-world search is mediated by 'what' and 'where' attentional templates that are implemented in high-level visual cortex. These templates represent target-diagnostic properties and likely target locations, respectively, and are shaped by object familiarity, scene context, and memory. We propose a framework for real-world search that incorporates these recent findings and specifies directions for future study.
Ritaccio, A., Brunner, P., Gunduz, A., Hermes, D., Hirsch, L., Jacobs, J., Kamada, K., Kastner, S., Knight, R., Lesser, R., Miller, K., Sejnowski, T., Worrell, G., & Schalk, G. (2014). Proceedings of the Fifth International Workshop on Advances in Electrocorticography. Epilepsy Behav, 41, 183-92. (Original work published 2014)
The Fifth International Workshop on Advances in Electrocorticography convened in San Diego, CA, on November 7-8, 2013. Advancements in methodology, implementation, and commercialization across both research and in the interval year since the last workshop were the focus of the gathering. Electrocorticography (ECoG) is now firmly established as a preferred signal source for advanced research in functional, cognitive, and neuroprosthetic domains. Published output in ECoG fields has increased tenfold in the past decade. These proceedings attempt to summarize the state of the art.
Keane, B., Erlikhman, G., Kastner, S., Paterno, D., & Silverstein, S. (2014). Multiple forms of contour grouping deficits in schizophrenia: what is the role of spatial frequency?. Neuropsychologia, 65, 221-33. (Original work published 2014)
Schizophrenia patients poorly perceive Kanizsa figures and integrate co-aligned contour elements (Gabors). They also poorly process low spatial frequencies (SFs), which presumably reflects dysfunction along the dorsal pathway. Can contour grouping deficits be explained in terms of the spatial frequency content of the display elements? To address the question, we tested patients and matched controls on three contour grouping paradigms in which the SF composition was modulated. In the Kanizsa task, subjects discriminated quartets of sectored circles ("pac-men") that either formed or did not form Kanizsa shapes (illusory and fragmented conditions, respectively). In contour integration, subjects identified the screen quadrant thought to contain a closed chain of co-circular Gabors. In collinear facilitation, subjects attempted to detect a central low-contrast element flanked by collinear or orthogonal high-contrast elements, and facilitation corresponded to the amount by which collinear flankers reduced contrast thresholds. We varied SF by modifying the element features in the Kanizsa task and by scaling the entire stimulus display in the remaining tasks (SFs ranging from 4 to 12 cycles/deg). Irrespective of SF, patients were worse at discriminating illusory, but not fragmented shapes. Contrary to our hypothesis, collinear facilitation and contour integration were abnormal in the clinical group only for the higher SF (>=10 c/deg). Grouping performance correlated with clinical variables, such as conceptual disorganization, general symptoms, and levels of functioning. In schizophrenia, three forms of contour grouping impairments prominently arise and cannot be attributed to poor low SF processing. Neurobiological and clinical implications are discussed.


Fiebelkorn, I., Saalmann, Y., & Kastner, S. (2013). Rhythmic sampling within and between objects despite sustained attention at a cued location. Curr Biol, 23, 2553-8. (Original work published 2013)
The brain directs its limited processing resources through various selection mechanisms, broadly referred to as attention. The present study investigated the temporal dynamics of two such selection mechanisms: space- and object-based selection. Previous evidence has demonstrated that preferential processing resulting from a spatial cue (i.e., space-based selection) spreads to uncued locations if those locations are part of the same object (i.e., resulting in object-based selection), but little is known about the relationship between these fundamental selection mechanisms. Here, we used human behavioral data to determine how space- and object-based selection simultaneously evolve under conditions that promote sustained attention at a cued location, varying the cue-to-target interval from 300 to 1100 ms. We tracked visual-target detection at a cued location (i.e., space-based selection), at an uncued location that was part of the same object (i.e., object-based selection), and at an uncued location that was part of a different object (i.e., in the absence of space- and object-based selection). The data demonstrate that even under static conditions, there is a moment-to-moment reweighting of attentional priorities based on object properties. This reweighting is revealed through rhythmic patterns of visual-target detection both within (at 8 Hz) and between (at 4 Hz) objects.
Szczepanski, S., Pinsk, M., Douglas, M., Kastner, S., & Saalmann, Y. (2013). Functional and structural architecture of the human dorsal frontoparietal attention network. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 110, 15806-11. (Original work published 2013)
The dorsal frontoparietal attention network has been subdivided into at least eight areas in humans. However, the circuitry linking these areas and the functions of different circuit paths remain unclear. Using a combination of neuroimaging techniques to map spatial representations in frontoparietal areas, their functional interactions, and structural connections, we demonstrate different pathways across human dorsal frontoparietal cortex for the control of spatial attention. Our results are consistent with these pathways computing object-centered and/or viewer-centered representations of attentional priorities depending on task requirements. Our findings provide an organizing principle for the frontoparietal attention network, where distinct pathways between frontal and parietal regions contribute to multiple spatial representations, enabling flexible selection of behaviorally relevant information.
Kim, J., & Kastner, S. (2013). Attention flexibly alters tuning for object categories. Trends Cogn Sci, 17, 368-70. (Original work published 2013)
Using functional MRI (fMRI) and a sophisticated forward encoding and decoding approach across the cortical surface, a new study examines how attention alternates tuning functions across a large set of semantic categories. The results suggest a dynamic attention mechanism that allocates greater resources to the attended and related semantic categories at the expense of unattended ones.
Mruczek, R., Loga, I., & Kastner, S. (2013). The representation of tool and non-tool object information in the human intraparietal sulcus. J Neurophysiol, 109, 2883-96. (Original work published 2013)
Humans have an amazing ability to quickly and efficiently recognize and interact with visual objects in their environment. The underlying neural processes supporting this ability have been mainly explored in the ventral visual stream. However, the dorsal stream has been proposed to play a critical role in guiding object-directed actions. This hypothesis is supported by recent neuroimaging studies that have identified object-selective and tool-related activity in human parietal cortex. In the present study, we sought to delineate tool-related information in the anterior portions of the human intraparietal sulcus (IPS) and relate it to recently identified motor-defined and topographic regions of interest (ROIs) using functional MRI in individual subjects. Consistent with previous reports, viewing pictures of tools compared with pictures of animals led to a higher blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) response in the left anterior IPS. For every subject, this activation was located lateral, anterior, and inferior to topographic area IPS5 and lateral and inferior to a motor-defined human parietal grasp region (hPGR). In a separate experiment, subjects viewed pictures of tools, animals, graspable (non-tool) objects, and scrambled objects. An ROI-based time-course analysis showed that tools evoked a stronger BOLD response than animals throughout topographic regions of the left IPS. Additionally, graspable objects evoked stronger responses than animals, equal to responses to tools, in posterior regions and weaker responses than tools, equal to responses to animals, in anterior regions. Thus the left anterior tool-specific region may integrate visual information encoding graspable features of objects from more posterior portions of the IPS with experiential knowledge of object use and function to guide actions.
Szczepanski, S., & Kastner, S. (2013). Shifting attentional priorities: control of spatial attention through hemispheric competition. J Neurosci, 33, 5411-21. (Original work published 2013)
Regions of frontal and posterior parietal cortex are known to control the allocation of spatial attention across the visual field. However, the neural mechanisms underlying attentional control in the intact human brain remain unclear, with some studies supporting a hemispatial theory emphasizing a dominant function of the right hemisphere and others supporting an interhemispheric competition theory. We previously found neural evidence to support the latter account, in which topographically organized frontoparietal areas each generate a spatial bias, or "attentional weight," toward the contralateral hemifield, with the sum of the weights constituting the overall bias that can be exerted across visual space. Here, we used a multimodal approach consisting of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of spatial attention signals, behavioral measures of spatial bias, and fMRI-guided single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to causally test this interhemispheric competition account. Across the group of fMRI subjects, we found substantial individual differences in the strengths of the frontoparietal attentional weights in each hemisphere, which predicted subjects' respective behavioral preferences when allocating spatial attention, as measured by a landmark task. Using TMS to interfere with attentional processing within specific topographic frontoparietal areas, we then demonstrated that the attentional weights of individual subjects, and thus their spatial attention behavior, could be predictably shifted toward one visual field or the other, depending on the site of interference. The results of our multimodal approach, combined with an emphasis on neural and behavioral individual differences, provide compelling evidence that spatial attention is controlled through competitive interactions between hemispheres rather than a dominant right hemisphere in the intact human brain.
Konen, C., Mruczek, R., Montoya, J., & Kastner, S. (2013). Functional organization of human posterior parietal cortex: grasping- and reaching-related activations relative to topographically organized cortex. J Neurophysiol, 109, 2897-908. (Original work published 2013)
The act of reaching to grasp an object requires the coordination between transporting the arm and shaping the hand. Neurophysiological, neuroimaging, neuroanatomic, and neuropsychological studies in macaque monkeys and humans suggest that the neural networks underlying grasping and reaching acts are at least partially separable within the posterior parietal cortex (PPC). To better understand how these neural networks have evolved in primates, we characterized the relationship between grasping- and reaching-related responses and topographically organized areas of the human intraparietal sulcus (IPS) using functional MRI. Grasping-specific activation was localized to the left anterior IPS, partially overlapping with the most anterior topographic regions and extending into the postcentral sulcus. Reaching-specific activation was localized to the left precuneus and superior parietal lobule, partially overlapping with the medial aspects of the more posterior topographic regions. Although the majority of activity within the topographic regions of the IPS was nonspecific with respect to movement type, we found evidence for a functional gradient of specificity for reaching and grasping movements spanning posterior-medial to anterior-lateral PPC. In contrast to the macaque monkey, grasp- and reach-specific activations were largely located outside of the human IPS.
Saalmann, Y., & Kastner, S. (2013). A role for the pulvinar in social cognition (commentary on Nguyen et al.). Eur J Neurosci, 37, 33-4. (Original work published 2013)


Seidl, K., Peelen, M., & Kastner, S. (2012). Neural evidence for distracter suppression during visual search in real-world scenes. J Neurosci, 32, 11812-9. (Original work published 2012)
Selecting visual information from cluttered real-world scenes involves the matching of visual input to the observer's attentional set--an internal representation of objects that are relevant for current behavioral goals. When goals change, a new attentional set needs to be instantiated, requiring the suppression of the previous set to prevent distraction by objects that are no longer relevant. In the present fMRI study, we investigated how such suppression is implemented at the neural level. We measured human brain activity in response to natural scene photographs that could contain objects from (1) a currently relevant (target) category, (2) a previously but not presently relevant (distracter) category, and/or (3) a never relevant (neutral) category. Across conditions, multivoxel response patterns in object-selective cortex carried information about objects present in the scenes. However, this information strongly depended on the task relevance of the objects. As expected, information about the target category was significantly increased relative to the neutral category, indicating top-down enhancement of task-relevant information. Importantly, information about the distracter category was significantly reduced relative to the neutral category, indicating that the processing of previously relevant objects was suppressed. Such active suppression at the level of high-order visual cortex may serve to prevent the erroneous selection of, or interference from, objects that are no longer relevant to ongoing behavior. We conclude that the enhancement of relevant information and the suppression of distracting information both contribute to the efficient selection of visual information from cluttered real-world scenes.
Saalmann, Y., Pinsk, M., Wang, L., Li, X., & Kastner, S. (2012). The pulvinar regulates information transmission between cortical areas based on attention demands. Science, 337, 753-6. (Original work published 2012)
Selective attention mechanisms route behaviorally relevant information through large-scale cortical networks. Although evidence suggests that populations of cortical neurons synchronize their activity to preferentially transmit information about attentional priorities, it is unclear how cortical synchrony across a network is accomplished. Based on its anatomical connectivity with the cortex, we hypothesized that the pulvinar, a thalamic nucleus, regulates cortical synchrony. We mapped pulvino-cortical networks within the visual system, using diffusion tensor imaging, and simultaneously recorded spikes and field potentials from these interconnected network sites in monkeys performing a visuospatial attention task. The pulvinar synchronized activity between interconnected cortical areas according to attentional allocation, suggesting a critical role for the thalamus not only in attentional selection but more generally in regulating information transmission across the visual cortex.
Wang, L., Saalmann, Y., Pinsk, M., Arcaro, M., & Kastner, S. (2012). Electrophysiological low-frequency coherence and cross-frequency coupling contribute to BOLD connectivity. Neuron, 76, 1010-20. (Original work published 2012)
Brain networks are commonly defined using correlations between blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signals in different brain areas. Although evidence suggests that gamma-band (30-100 Hz) neural activity contributes to local BOLD signals, the neural basis of interareal BOLD correlations is unclear. We first defined a visual network in monkeys based on converging evidence from interareal BOLD correlations during a fixation task, task-free state, and anesthesia, and then simultaneously recorded local field potentials (LFPs) from the same four network areas in the task-free state. Low-frequency oscillations (<20 Hz), and not gamma activity, predominantly contributed to interareal BOLD correlations. The low-frequency oscillations also influenced local processing by modulating gamma activity within individual areas. We suggest that such cross-frequency coupling links local BOLD signals to BOLD correlations across distributed networks.


Peelen, M., & Kastner, S. (2011). Is that a bathtub in your kitchen?. Nat Neurosci, 14, 1224-6. (Original work published 2011)
Peelen, M., & Kastner, S. (2011). A neural basis for real-world visual search in human occipitotemporal cortex. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A, 108, 12125-30. (Original work published 2011)
Mammals are highly skilled in rapidly detecting objects in cluttered natural environments, a skill necessary for survival. What are the neural mechanisms mediating detection of objects in natural scenes? Here, we use human brain imaging to address the role of top-down preparatory processes in the detection of familiar object categories in real-world environments. Brain activity was measured while participants were preparing to detect highly variable depictions of people or cars in natural scenes that were new to the participants. The preparation to detect objects of the target category, in the absence of visual input, evoked activity patterns in visual cortex that resembled the response to actual exemplars of the target category. Importantly, the selectivity of multivoxel preparatory activity patterns in object-selective cortex (OSC) predicted target detection performance. By contrast, preparatory activity in early visual cortex (V1) was negatively related to search performance. Additional behavioral results suggested that the dissociation between OSC and V1 reflected the use of different search strategies, linking OSC preparatory activity to relatively abstract search preparation and V1 to more specific imagery-like preparation. Finally, whole-brain searchlight analyses revealed that, in addition to OSC, response patterns in medial prefrontal cortex distinguished the target categories based on the search cues alone, suggesting that this region may constitute a top-down source of preparatory activity observed in visual cortex. These results indicate that in naturalistic situations, when the precise visual characteristics of target objects are not known in advance, preparatory activity at higher levels of the visual hierarchy selectively mediates visual search.
McMains, S., & Kastner, S. (2011). Interactions of top-down and bottom-up mechanisms in human visual cortex. J Neurosci, 31, 587-97. (Original work published 2011)
Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system. Competitive interactions among stimuli can be counteracted by top-down, goal-directed mechanisms such as attention, and by bottom-up, stimulus-driven mechanisms. Because these two processes cooperate in everyday life to bias processing toward behaviorally relevant or particularly salient stimuli, it has proven difficult to study interactions between top-down and bottom-up mechanisms. Here, we used an experimental paradigm in which we first isolated the effects of a bottom-up influence on neural competition by parametrically varying the degree of perceptual grouping in displays that were not attended. Second, we probed the effects of directed attention on the competitive interactions induced with the parametric design. We found that the amount of attentional modulation varied linearly with the degree of competition left unresolved by bottom-up processes, such that attentional modulation was greatest when neural competition was little influenced by bottom-up mechanisms and smallest when competition was strongly influenced by bottom-up mechanisms. These findings suggest that the strength of attentional modulation in the visual system is constrained by the degree to which competitive interactions have been resolved by bottom-up processes related to the segmentation of scenes into candidate objects.
Graziano, M. S., & Kastner, S. (2011). Human consciousness and its relationship to social neuroscience: A novel hypothesis. Cogn Neurosci, 2, 98-113. (Original work published 2011)
A common modern view of consciousness is that it is an emergent property of the brain, perhaps caused by neuronal complexity, and perhaps with no adaptive value. Exactly what emerges, how it emerges, and from what specific neuronal process, is in debate. One possible explanation of consciousness, proposed here, is that it is a construct of the social perceptual machinery. Humans have specialized neuronal machinery that allows us to be socially intelligent. The primary role for this machinery is to construct models of other people's minds thereby gaining some ability to predict the behavior of other individuals. In the present hypothesis, awareness is a perceptual reconstruction of attentional state; and the machinery that computes information about other people's awareness is the same machinery that computes information about our own awareness. The present article brings together a variety of lines of evidence including experiments on the neural basis of social perception, on hemispatial neglect, on the out-of-body experience, on mirror neurons, and on the mechanisms of decision-making, to explore the possibility that awareness is a construct of the social machinery in the brain.