• Spatial attention is characterized by alternating periods of relatively enhanced or diminished perceptual sensitivity. That is, spatial attention samples the visual environment in rhythmic cycles. The pulvinar nucleus of the thalamus coordinates neural activity in the frontal eye fields (FEF) and the lateral intraparietal area (LIP) during rhythmically occurring periods of enhanced perceptual sensitivity (i.e., during periods of relative engagement at a cued location).

  • From the Kastner Lab: Thalamus contributes to rhythmic sampling during spatial attention

    A new article published 1/15/2019 in Nature Communications details research from Ian C. Fiebelkorn, Mark A. Pinsk, and Sabine Kastner. Their findings show that the pulvinar nucleus of the thalamus coordinates neural activity in the frontoparietal network, but only during rhythmically occurring periods of engagement at a cued location.
    Spatial attention has been compared to a spotlight that scans the visual environment, pausing to illuminate potentially relevant locations. Locations within the spotlight receive boosts in sensory processing. This attention-related boost in sensory processing results from the coordinated efforts of a large-scale attention network. Here, the authors use multisite electrophysiological recordings to show that the pulvinar, a subcortical node of the attention network, coordinates neural activity in cortical nodes (i.e., frontal and parietal cortices). The pulvinar, however, only coordinates cortical activity during rhythmically occurring periods of engagement at the cued location. During intervening periods of relative disengagement, attentional control instead shifts to parietal cortex. These rhythmically alternating patterns of functional connectivity occur approximately eight times per second.
    This research further supports recent work from Ian C. Fiebelkorn and Sabine Kastner that describes spatial attention as a discontinuous process, sampling the environment in rhythmic cycles.
    Trends in Cognitive Sciences: A Rhythmic Theory of Attention