Prefrontal cortex (PFC) and posterior parietal cortex (PPC) are neural substrates for spatial cognition. We here review studies in which we tested the hypothesis that human frontoparietal cortex may function as a priority map. According to priority map theory, objects or locations in the visual world are represented by neural activity that is proportional to their attentional priority. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we first identified topographic maps in PFC and PPC as candidate priority maps of space. We then measured fMRI activity in candidate priority maps during the delay periods of a covert attention task, a spatial working memory task, and a motor planning task to test whether the activity depended on the particular spatial cognition. Our hypothesis was that some, but not all, candidate priority maps in PFC and PPC would be agnostic with regard to what was being prioritized, in that their activity would reflect the location in space across tasks rather than a particular kind of spatial cognition (e.g., covert attention). To test whether patterns of delay period activity were interchangeable during the spatial cognitive tasks, we used multivariate classifiers. We found that decoders trained to predict the locations on one task (e.g., working memory) cross-predicted the locations on the other tasks (e.g., covert attention and motor planning) in superior precentral sulcus (sPCS) and in a region of intraparietal sulcus (IPS2), suggesting that these patterns of maintenance activity may be interchangeable across the tasks. Such properties make sPCS in frontal cortex and IPS2 in parietal cortex viable priority map candidates, and suggest that these areas may be the human homologs of the monkey frontal eye field (FEF) and lateral intraparietal area (LIP).
Keywords: Attention; Frontal eye field; Lateral intraparietal area; Parietal cortex; Prefrontal cortex; Priority map; Topography; Working memory.
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