Research sheds light on the cellular mechanisms responsible for the ability of brain to pay attention to relevant information while ignoring distractions.
Without the ability to focus and filter out "noise," we could not effectively interact with our environment.
Researchers from Dartmouth's Geisel School of Medicine and the University of California Davis studied communications between synaptically connected neurons under conditions where subjects shifted their attention toward or away from visual stimuli that activated the recorded neurons.
Using this highly sensitive measure of attention's influence on neuron-to-neuron communication, they were able to demonstrate that attention operates at the level of the synapse to improve sensitivity to incoming signals, sharpen the precision of these signals, and selectively boost the transmission of attention-grabbing information while reducing the level of noisy or attention-disrupting information.
The results point to a novel mechanism by which attention shapes perception by selectively altering presynaptic weights to highlight sensory features among all the noisy sensory input.
In addition to expanding our understanding of brain, this study could help people with attention deficits resulting from brain injury or disease, possibly leading to improved screening and new treatments.
The study was published in the journal Nature.