Attention exerts a strong influence over neuronal processing in cortical areas. It selectively increases firing rates and affects tuning properties, including changing receptive field locations and sizes. Although these effects are well studied, their cellular mechanisms are poorly understood. To study the cellular mechanisms, we combined iontophoretic pharmacological analysis of cholinergic receptors with single cell recordings in V1 while rhesus macaque monkeys (Macaca mulatta) performed a task that demanded top-down spatial attention. Attending to the receptive field of the V1 neuron under study caused an increase in firing rates. Here we show that this attentional modulation was enhanced by low doses of acetylcholine. Furthermore, applying the muscarinic antagonist scopolamine reduced attentional modulation, whereas the nicotinic antagonist mecamylamine had no systematic effect. These results demonstrate that muscarinic cholinergic mechanisms play a central part in mediating the effects of attention in V1.
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