Feature-based attention has a spatially global effect, i.e., responses to stimuli that share features with an attended stimulus are enhanced not only at the attended location but throughout the visual field. However, how feature-based attention modulates cortical neural responses at unattended locations remains unclear. Here we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine this issue as human participants performed motion- (Experiment 1) and color- (Experiment 2) based attention tasks. Results indicated that, in both experiments, the respective visual processing areas (middle temporal area [MT+] for motion and V4 for color) as well as early visual, parietal, and prefrontal areas all showed the classic feature-based attention effect, with neural responses to the unattended stimulus significantly elevated when it shared the same feature with the attended stimulus. Effective connectivity analysis using dynamic causal modeling (DCM) showed that this spatially global effect in the respective visual processing areas (MT+ for motion and V4 for color), intraparietal sulcus (IPS), frontal eye field (FEF), medial frontal gyrus (mFG), and primary visual cortex (V1) was derived by feedback from the inferior frontal junction (IFJ). Complementary effective connectivity analysis using Granger causality modeling (GCM) confirmed that, in both experiments, the node with the highest outflow and netflow degree was IFJ, which was thus considered to be the source of the network. These results indicate a source for the spatially global effect of feature-based attention in the human prefrontal cortex.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00001360.