Growing evidence suggests that distributed spatial attention may invoke theta (3-9 Hz) rhythmic sampling processes. The neuronal basis of such attentional sampling is, however, not fully understood. Here we show using array recordings in visual cortical area V4 of two awake macaques that presenting separate visual stimuli to the excitatory center and suppressive surround of neuronal receptive fields (RFs) elicits rhythmic multi-unit activity (MUA) at 3-6 Hz. This neuronal rhythm did not depend on small fixational eye movements. In the context of a distributed spatial attention task, during which the monkeys detected a spatially and temporally uncertain target, reaction times (RTs) exhibited similar rhythmic fluctuations. RTs were fast or slow depending on the target occurrence during high or low MUA, resulting in rhythmic MUA-RT cross-correlations at theta frequencies. These findings show that theta rhythmic neuronal activity can arise from competitive RF interactions and that this rhythm may result in rhythmic RTs potentially subserving attentional sampling.
Keywords: V4; attention; microsaccades; monkey; neurophysiology; oscillations; rhythm; vision; visual cortex.
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