Visual neglect is a multi-component syndrome including prominent attentional disorders. Research on the functional mechanisms of neglect is now moving from the description of dissociations in patients' performance to the identification of the possible component deficits and of their interaction with compensatory strategies. In recent years, the dissection of attentional deficits in neglect has progressed in parallel with increasing comprehension of the anatomy and function of large-scale brain networks implicated in attentional processes. This review focuses on the anatomy and putative functions of attentional circuits in the brain, mainly subserved by fronto-parietal networks, with a peculiar although not yet completely elucidated role for the right hemisphere. Recent results are discussed concerning the influence of a non-spatial attentional function, phasic alertness, on conscious perception in normal participants and on conflict resolution in neglect patients. The rapid rate of expansion of our knowledge of these systems raises hopes for the development of effective strategies to improve the functioning of the attentional networks in brain-damaged patients.