Deficit in feature-based attention following a left thalamic lesion
Selective attention enables us to prioritise the processing of relevant over irrelevant information. The model of priority maps with stored attention weights provides a conceptual framework that accounts for the visual prioritisation mechanism of selective attention. According to this model, high attention weights can be assigned to spatial locations, features, or objects. Converging evidence from neuroimaging and neuropsychological studies propose the involvement of thalamic and frontoparietal areas in selective attention. However, it is unclear whether the thalamus is critically involved in generating different types of modulatory signals for attentional selection. The aim of the current study was to investigate feature- and spatial-based selection in stroke survivors with subcortical thalamic and non-thalamic lesions. A single case with a left-hemispheric lesion extending into the thalamus, five cases with right-hemispheric lesions sparing the thalamus and 34 healthy, age-matched controls participated in the study. Participants performed a go/no-go task on task-relevant stimuli, while ignoring simultaneously presented task-irrelevant stimuli. Stimulus relevance was determined by colour or spatial location. The thalamic lesion case was specifically impaired in feature-based selection but not in spatial-based selection, whereas performance of non-thalamic lesion patients was similar to controls' performance in both types of selective attention. In summary, our thalamic lesion case showed difficulties in computing differential attention weights based on features, but not based on spatial locations. The results suggest that different modulatory signals are generated mediating attentional selection for features versus space in the thalamus.