When attention meets perception: Non invasive neurostimulation technologies to boost visual perception in intact subjects and cerebrally damaged patients


Cerebral functions emerge from the activity of local and widely distributed cerebral networks. Their ability to uptake and treat information is dependent on their patterns of anatomical and functional connectivity and the temporal dynamics characterizing the encoding and flow of electrical signals between their nodes. The sensibility range of such complex systems, which depends on its architecture and organization, appears to be well fixed and defines our individual perceptual capabilities. Cerebral networks are however provided with a level of inherent flexibility, which is underlined by rapid processes of plastic reorganization. Such plastic processes allows us to continuously adapt to novel cognitive demands posed by specific operations within the environment. By doing so they accommodate an essential ability for human survival, which is the acquisition, learning and amelioration in the performance of tasks, such as those involving sensory discrimination. Furthermore, when those same networks are exposed to focal areas of damage, those very same plastic properties can also provide the basis for clinical recovery. In support of the importance of such phenomena, studies have massively shown the correlation between ameliorations in human performance and dramatic molecular, cellular and synaptic plasticity effects occurring within specific cerebral regions. Nonetheless, in the brain systems underlying vision, audition or touch, for example, the achievement performance ameliorations can often be supported by rapid plastic mechanisms embedded within the functionality of the network at play and mediated through its interactions with sets of additional circuitry. In support of this idea, prior animal and human studies have provided strong evidence on the relationships between spatial attention processing and visual detection/discrimination performance. Those reports have emphasized the notion that both exogenous and endogenous visual sensory cues, covertly orienting attention towards specific regions of the space, have the ability to flexibly modulate the gain of striate visual neurons, and by doing so, induce ameliorations in our ability to discriminate a target displayed shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, the effects of cuing is temporally limited to trial duration and its ability to effectively use them to ameliorate the visual abilities of cerebrally damaged patients with low visual capabilities remains controversial. Conveniently, the cerebral network involved in such attentional orienting processes its being actively investigated, revealing the implication of a large-scale brain circuit, involving several posterior parietal, frontal and temporal regions. However, the anatomical and functional interactions between those systems and the occipital areas involved in low level visual processing; and the ability to efficiently manipulate the former to boost visual discrimination performance in intact subjects or in cortically damaged patients affected by visual problems remains poorly explored.


Imaging techniques, Brain stimulation, Computational neurosciences, cognitive enhancement, visual enhancement, scotoma, hemianopia, quandrantanopsia, cortical blindness

Call topic

New Technology

Proposed runtime

2010 - 2013

Project team

Antoni Valero-Cabre (Coordinator)
France (ANR)
Paolo Bartolomeo
France (ANR)
Claus Hilgetag
Germany (BMBF)
Juan Lupianez
Spain (MICINN)