Dissociable neuronal substrates of visual feature attention and working memory

Diego Mendoza-Halliday, Haoran Xu, Frederico A.C. Azevedo, Robert Desimone. bioRxiv, Mar 2023.


Attention and working memory (WM) are distinct cognitive functions, yet given their close interactions, it has been proposed that they share the same neuronal mechanisms. Here we show that in macaques performing a WM-guided feature attention task, the activity of most neurons in areas middle temporal (MT), medial superior temporal (MST), lateral intraparietal (LIP), and posterior lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC-p) displays either WM coding or attentional modulation, but not both. One area thought to play a role in both functions is LPFC-p. To test this, we optogenetically inactivated LPFC-p bilaterally during the attention or WM periods of the task. Attention period inactivation reduced attentional modulation in LPFC-p, MST, and LIP neurons, and impaired task performance. WM period inactivation did not affect attentional modulation nor performance, and minimally reduced WM coding. Our results suggest that feature attention and WM have dissociable neuronal substrates, and that LPFC-p plays a critical role in attention but not WM.