Differential attention-dependent adjustment of frequency, power and phase in primary sensory and frontoparietal areas

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Continuously prioritizing behaviourally relevant information from the environment for improved stimulus processing is a crucial function of attention. In the current MEG study, we investigated how ongoing oscillatory activity of both sensory and non-sensory brain regions are differentially impacted by attentional focus. Low-frequency phase alignment of neural activity in primary sensory areas, with respect to attended/ignored features has been suggested to support top-down prioritization. However, phase adjustment in frontoparietal regions has not been widely studied, despite general implication of these in top-down selection of information. To investigate this, we let participants perform an established intermodal selective attention task, where low-frequency auditory (1.6 Hz) and visual (1.8 Hz) stimuli were presented simultaneously. We instructed them to either attend to the auditory or to the visual stimuli and to detect targets while ignoring the other stimulus stream. As expected, the strongest phase adjustment was observed in primary sensory regions for auditory and for visual stimulation, independent of attentional focus. We found greater differences in phase locking between attended and ignored stimulation for the visual modality. Interestingly, auditory temporal regions show small but significant attention-dependent neural entrainment even for visual stimulation. Extending findings from invasive recordings in non-human primates, we demonstrate an effect of attentional focus on the phase of the entrained oscillations in auditory and visual cortex which may be driven by phase locked increases of induced power. While sensory areas adjusted the phase of the respective stimulation frequencies, attentional focus adjusted the peak frequencies in nonsensory areas. Spatially these areas show a striking overlap with core regions of the dorsal attention network and the frontoparietal network. This suggests that these areas prioritize the attended modality by optimally exploiting the temporal structure of stimulation. Overall, our study complements and extends previous work by showing a differential effect of attentional focus on entrained oscillations (or phase adjustment) in primary sensory areas and frontoparietal areas.




Suess, N., Hartmann, T., & Weisz, N. (2021). Differential attention-dependent adjustment of frequency, power and phase in primary sensory and frontoparietal areas. Cortex, 137, 179–193. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cortex.2021.01.008

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