Neural correlates of sustained spatial attention in human early visual cortex.
Attention is thought to enhance perceptual performance at attended locations through top-down attention signals that modulate activity in visual cortex. Here, we show that activity in early visual cortex is sustained during maintenance of attention in the absence of visual stimulation. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure activity in visual cortex while human subjects performed a visual detection task in which a variable-duration delay period preceded target presentation. Portions of cortical areas V1, V2, and V3 representing the attended part of the visual field exhibited sustained increases in activity throughout the delay period. Portions of these cortical areas representing peripheral, unattended parts of the visual field displayed sustained decreases in activity. The data were well fit by a model that assumed the sustained neural activity was constant in amplitude over a time period equal to that of the actual delay period for each trial. These results demonstrate that sustained attention responses are present in early visual cortex (including primary visual cortex), in the absence of a visual stimulus, and that these responses correlate with the allocation of visuospatial attention in both the spatial and temporal domains.