Single-unit recording studies in the macaque have carefully documented the modulatory effects of attention on the response properties of visual cortical neurons. Attention produces qualitatively different effects on firing rate, depending on whether a stimulus appears alone or accompanied by distracters. Studies of contrast gain control in anesthetized mammals have found parallel patterns of results when the luminance contrast of a stimulus increases. This finding suggests that attention has co-opted the circuits that mediate contrast gain control and that it operates by increasing the effective contrast of the attended stimulus. Consistent with this idea, microstimulation of the frontal eye fields, one of several areas that control the allocation of spatial attention, induces spatially local increases in sensitivity both at the behavioral level and among neurons in area V4, where endogenously generated attention increases contrast sensitivity. Studies in the slice have begun to explain how modulatory signals might cause such increases in sensitivity.