Layer-dependent multiplicative effects of spatial attention on contrast responses in human early visual cortex

Chengwen Liu, Fanhua Guo, Chencan Qian, Zihao Zhang, Kaibao Sun, Danny JJ Wang, Sheng He, Peng Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Attention mechanisms at different cortical layers of human visual cortex remain poorly understood. Using submillimeter-resolution fMRI at 7 Tesla, we investigated the effects of top-down spatial attention on the contrast responses across different cortical depths in human early visual cortex. Gradient echo (GE) T2* weighted BOLD signal showed an additive effect of attention on contrast responses across cortical depths. Compared to the middle cortical depth, attention modulation was stronger in the superficial and deep depths of V1, and also stronger in the superficial depth of V2 and V3. Using ultra-high resolution (0.3 mm in-plane) balanced steady-state free precession (bSSFP) fMRI, a multiplicative scaling effect of attention was found in the superficial and deep layers, but not in the middle layer of V1. Attention modulation of low contrast response was strongest in the middle cortical depths, indicating baseline enhancement or contrast gain of attention modulation on feedforward input. Finally, the additive vs. scaling effect of attention from GE-EPI and bSSFP signals can be explained by stronger nonlinearity of BOLD signals from large than small blood vessels, suggesting multiplicative effect of attention on neural activity. These findings support that top-down spatial attention mainly operates through feedback connections from higher order cortical areas, and a distinct mechanism of attention may also be associated with feedforward input through subcortical pathway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number101897
JournalProgress in Neurobiology
Early online dateAug 17 2020
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Elsevier Ltd


  • 7T fMRI
  • Contrast response function
  • Feedback
  • Feedforward
  • Layer
  • Spatial attention

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article


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