Stimulus representations in visual cortex shaped by spatial attention and microsaccades

Karthik Srinivasan, Eric Lowet, Bruno Gomes, Robert Desimone. bioRxiv, Feb 2023.


Microsaccades (MSs) are commonly associated with spatially directed attention, but how they affect visual processing is still not clear. We studied MSs in a task in which the animal was randomly cued to attend to a target stimulus and ignore distractors, and it was rewarded for detecting a color change in the target. We found that the enhancement of firing rates normally found with attention to a cued stimulus was delayed until the first MS directed towards that stimulus. Once that MS occurred, attention to the target was engaged and there were persistent effects of attention on firing rates for the remainder of the trial. These effects were found in the superficial and deep layers of V4 as well as the lateral pulvinar and IT cortex. Although the tuning curves of V4 cells do not change depending on the locus of spatial attention, we found pronounced effects of MS direction on stimulus representations that persisted for the length of the trial in V4. In intervals following a MS towards the target in the RF, stimulus decoding from population activity was substantially better than in intervals following a MS away from the target. Likewise, turning curves of cells were substantially sharper following a MS towards the target in the RF. This sharpening appeared to result from both a “refreshing” of the initial transient sensory response to stimulus onset, and a magnification of the effects of attention in this condition. MSs to the target also enhanced the neuronal response to the behaviorally relevant target color change and led to faster reaction times. These results thus reveal a major link between spatial attention, object processing and its coordination with eye movements.