A visual salience map in the primate frontal eye field

Prog Brain Res. 2005;147:251-62. doi: 10.1016/S0079-6123(04)47019-8.


Models of attention and saccade target selection propose that within the brain there is a topographic map of visual salience that combines bottom-up and top-down influences to identify locations for further processing. The results of a series of experiments with monkeys performing visual search tasks have identified a population of frontal eye field (FEF) visually responsive neurons that exhibit all of the characteristics of a visual salience map. The activity of these FEF neurons is not sensitive to specific features of visual stimuli; but instead, their activity evolves over time to select the target of the search array. This selective activation reflects both the bottom-up intrinsic conspicuousness of the stimuli and the top-down knowledge and goals of the viewer. The peak response within FEF specifies the target for the overt gaze shift. However, the selective activity in FEF is not in itself a motor command because the magnitude of activation reflects the relative behavioral significance of the different stimuli in the visual scene and occurs even when no saccade is made. Identifying a visual salience map in FEF validates the theoretical concept of a salience map in many models of attention. In addition, it strengthens the emerging view that FEF is not only involved in producing overt gaze shifts, but is also important for directing covert spatial attention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention*
  • Cognition
  • Primates / physiology*
  • Primates / psychology*
  • Saccades / physiology
  • Visual Fields / physiology*
  • Visual Pathways / physiology*