Abstract

Lesions of the posterior parietal cortex in humans and monkeys result in a spatial neglect syndrome characterized by defects in visual-spatial perception, oculomotor function, and directing visual attention. Although symptoms of spatial neglect can result from lesions to other cortical and subcortical areas, patients with posterior parietal lesions are particularly impaired in their ability to disengage and reorient visual attention. Neurophysiological experiments in area 7a of behaving monkeys reveal a large class of neurons that respond to visual stimuli and are powerfully modulated by states of attention. These cells respond better to passive visual stimuli presented during states of attentive fixation than to identical stimuli presented in nonattentive states. The responses of the majority of these cells are also influenced by covert shifts of attention away from the point of fixation; they respond to stimuli presented anywhere within their receptive fields except the covertly attended location. The combined effect of facilitation during attentive fixation and lack of response at the attended location results in a sensitivity for visual stimuli that appear at one location while attention is directed to another The special sensitivity for unattended stimuli in this group of neurons in area 7a suggests that they may play a role in reorienting attention, possibly by providing signals of the spatial locations of novel stimuli.

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