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Cued spatial attention modulates functionally relevant alpha rhythms in visual cortices in humans. Here, we present evidence for analogous phenomena in primary somatosensory neocortex (SI). Using magnetoencephalography, we measured changes in the SI mu rhythm containing mu-alpha (7–14 Hz) and mu-beta (15–29 Hz) components. We found that cued attention impacted mu-alpha in the somatopically localized hand representation in SI, showing decreased power after attention was cued to the hand and increased power after attention was cued to the foot, with significant differences observed 500–1100 ms after cue. Mu-beta showed differences in a time window 800–850 ms after cue. The visual cue also drove an early evoked response beginning ∼70 ms after cue with distinct peaks modulated with cued attention. Distinct components of the tactile stimulus-evoked response were also modulated with cued attention. Analysis of a second dataset showed that, on a trial-by-trial basis, tactile detection probabilities decreased linearly with prestimulus mu-alpha and mu-beta power. These results support the growing consensus that cue-induced alpha modulation is a functionally relevant sensory gating mechanism deployed by attention. Further, while cued attention had a weaker effect on the allocation of mu-beta, oscillations in this band also predicted tactile detection.
Background Behavioral paradigms applied during human recordings in electro- and magneto- encephalography (EEG and MEG) typically require 1–2 hours of data collection. Over this time scale, the natural fluctuations in brain state or rapid learning effects could impact measured signals, but are seldom analyzed. Methods and Findings We investigated within-session dynamics of neocortical alpha (7–14 Hz) rhythms and their allocation with cued-attention using MEG recorded from primary somatosensory neocortex (SI) in humans. We found that there were significant and systematic changes across a single ∼1 hour recording session in several dimensions, including increased alpha power, increased differentiation in attention-induced alpha allocation, increased distinction in immediate time-locked post-cue evoked responses in SI to different visual cues, and enhanced power in the immediate cue-locked alpha band frequency response. Further, comparison of two commonly used baseline methods showed that conclusions on the evolution of alpha dynamics across a session were dependent on the normalization method used. Conclusions These findings are important not only as they relate to studies of oscillations in SI, they also provide a robust example of the type of dynamic changes in brain measures within a single session that are overlooked in most human brain imaging/recording studies.