Attentional modulation of background connectivity between ventral visual cortex and the medial temporal lobe

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Abstract

Attention prioritizes information that is most relevant to current behavioral goals. This prioritization can be accomplished by amplifying neural responses to goal-relevant information and by strengthening coupling between regions involved in processing this information. Such modulation occurs within and between areas of visual cortex, and relates to behavioral effects of attention on perception. However, attention also has powerful effects on learning and memory behavior, suggesting that similar modulation may occur for memory systems. We used fMRI to investigate this possibility, examining how visual information is prioritized for processing in the medial temporal lobe (MTL). We hypothesized that the way in which ventral visual cortex couples with MTL input structures will depend on the kind of information being attended. Indeed, visual cortex was more coupled with parahippocampal cortex when scenes were attended and more coupled with perirhinal cortex when faces were attended. This switching of MTL connectivity was more pronounced for visual voxels with weak selectivity, suggesting that connectivity might help disambiguate sensory signals. These findings provide an initial window into an attentional mechanism that could have consequences for learning and memory.

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