The frontal eye field (FEF) contributes to directing visual attention and saccadic eye movement through intrinsic processing, interactions with extrastriate visual cortical areas (e.g., V4), and projections to subcortical structures (e.g., superior colliculus, SC). Several models have been proposed to describe the relationship between the allocation of visual attention and the production of saccades. We obtained anatomical information that might provide useful constraints on these models by evaluating two characteristics of FEF. First, we investigated the laminar distribution of efferent connections from FEF to visual areas V4 + TEO and to SC. Second, we examined the laminar distribution of different populations of GABAergic neurons in FEF. We found that the neurons in FEF that project to V4 + TEO are located predominantly in the supragranular layers, colocalized with the highest density of calbindin- and calretinin-immunoreactive inhibitory interneurons. In contrast, the cell bodies of neurons that project to SC are found only in layer 5 of FEF, colocalized primarily with parvalbumin inhibitory interneurons. None of the neurons in layer 5 that project to V4 + TEO also project to SC. These results provide useful constraints for cognitive models of visual attention and saccade production by indicating that different populations of neurons project to extrastriate visual cortical areas and to SC. This finding also suggests that FEF neurons projecting to visual cortex and SC are embedded in different patterns of intracortical circuitry.
Keywords: GABA; cerebral cortex; premotor theory of attention; visual pathways.