April 12, 2021

Pre-Stimulus Alpha-Band Phase Gates Afferent Visual Cortex Responses

The neurogenesis of alpha-band (8-13 Hz) activity has been characterized across many different animal experiments. However, the functional role that alpha oscillations play in perception and behavior has largely been attributed to two contrasting hypotheses, with human evidence in favor of either (or both or neither) remaining sparse. On the one hand, alpha generators have been observed in relay sectors of the visual thalamus and are postulated to phasically inhibit afferent visual input in a feedforward manner 1-4. On the other hand, evidence also suggests that the direction of influence of alpha activity propagates backwards along the visual hierarchy, reflecting a feedback influence upon the visual cortex 5-9. The primary source of human evidence regarding the role of alpha phase in visual processing has been on perceptual reports 10-16, which could be modulated either by feedforward or feedback alpha activity. Thus, although these two hypotheses are not mutually exclusive, human evidence clearly supporting either one is lacking. Here, we present human subjects with large, high-contrast visual stimuli that elicit robust C1 event-related potentials (ERP), which peak between 70-80 milliseconds post-stimulus and are thought to reflect afferent primary visual cortex (V1) input 17-20. We find that the phase of ongoing alpha oscillations modulates the global field power (GFP) of the EEG during this first volley of stimulus processing (the C1 time-window). On the standard assumption 21-23 that this early activity reflects postsynaptic potentials being relayed to visual cortex from the thalamus, our results suggest that alpha phase gates visual responses during the first feed-forward sweep of processing.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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