Spatial attention improves reliability of fMRI retinotopic mapping signals in occipital and parietal cortex

Neuroimage. 2010 Nov 1;53(2):526-33. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.06.063. Epub 2010 Jul 1.


Spatial attention improves visual perception and increases the amplitude of neural responses in visual cortex. In addition, spatial attention tasks and fMRI have been used to discover topographic visual field representations in regions outside visual cortex. We therefore hypothesized that requiring subjects to attend to a retinotopic mapping stimulus would facilitate the characterization of visual field representations in a number of cortical areas. In our study, subjects attended either a central fixation point or a wedge-shaped stimulus that rotated about the fixation point. Response reliability was assessed by computing coherence between the fMRI time series and a sinusoid with the same frequency as the rotating wedge stimulus. When subjects attended to the rotating wedge instead of ignoring it, the reliability of retinotopic mapping signals increased by approximately 50% in early visual cortical areas (V1, V2, V3, V3A/B, V4) and ventral occipital cortex (VO1) and by approximately 75% in lateral occipital (LO1, LO2) and posterior parietal (IPS0, IPS1, IPS2) cortical areas. Additionally, one 5-min run of retinotopic mapping in the attention-to-wedge condition produced responses as reliable as the average of three to five (early visual cortex) or more than five (lateral occipital, ventral occipital, and posterior parietal cortex) attention-to-fixation runs. These results demonstrate that allocating attention to the retinotopic mapping stimulus substantially reduces the amount of scanning time needed to determine the visual field representations in occipital and parietal topographic cortical areas. Attention significantly increased response reliability in every cortical area we examined and may therefore be a general mechanism for improving the fidelity of neural representations of sensory stimuli at multiple levels of the cortical processing hierarchy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Fixation, Ocular
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Occipital Lobe / anatomy & histology*
  • Parietal Lobe / anatomy & histology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Retina / anatomy & histology*
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology
  • Visual Pathways / physiology
  • Visual Perception / physiology