Evidence for the involvement of the rat prefrontal cortex in sustained attention.


  • Granon Sylvie
  • Hardouin Janine
  • Courtière Alain
  • Poucet B.

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Previous studies suggest that, in both humans and rats, the prefrontal cortex (PFC) is involved in both selective and divided attention. We have also shown that the PFC is involved in response selection and that its involvement is modulated by the cognitive effort required by the task. However, the role of the PFC is much less clear when no response selection is required. The purpose of the present experiments was to assess the role of the PFC in attentional functions with a low response-selection demand. We used two tasks in which information processing was effortful but where the demand on a response selection process is low. Moreover, we assessed two different types of visual attentional functions: selective attention (Experiment 1) and sustained attention (Experiment 2). The results showed a differential involvement for the PFC in the two tasks. Selective attention was not impaired by prefrontal lesions when the number of possible positions for the stimulus on which the subjects must focus was restricted to two (Experiment 1). In contrast, prefrontal rats were unable to sustain their attention long enough to detect, and react to, subtle variations in brightness (Experiment 2). This results suggests a dissociation between different types of attentional functions depending upon the integrity of the PFC. More specifically, results in Experiment 2 suggest an involvement of the PFC in sustained attention. Finally, the overall results show that even in tasks involving low demands on response selection the PFC is involved in attentional functions.

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