Attentional shifts towards an expected visual target alter the level of alpha-band oscillatory activity in the human calcarine cortex

Brain Res Cogn Brain Res. 2005 Dec;25(3):799-809. doi: 10.1016/j.cogbrainres.2005.09.006. Epub 2005 Oct 24.


Neuronal operations associated with the top-down control process of shifting attention from one locus to another involve a network of cortical regions, and their influence is deemed fundamental to visual perception. However, the extent and nature of these operations within primary visual areas are unknown. In this paper, we used magnetoencephalography (MEG) in combination with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine whether, prior to the onset of a visual stimulus, neuronal activity within early visual cortex is affected by covert attentional shifts. Time/frequency analyses were used to identify the nature of this activity. Our results show that shifting attention towards an expected visual target results in a late-onset (600 ms postcue onset) depression of alpha activity which persists until the appearance of the target. Independent component analysis (ICA) and dipolar source modeling confirmed that the neuronal changes we observed originated from within the calcarine cortex. Our results further show that the amplitude changes in alpha activity were induced not evoked (i.e., not phase-locked to the cued attentional task). We argue that the decrease in alpha prior to the onset of the target may serve to prime the early visual cortex for incoming sensory information. We conclude that attentional shifts affect activity within the human calcarine cortex by altering the amplitude of spontaneous alpha rhythms and that subsequent modulation of visual input with attentional engagement follows as a consequence of these localized changes in oscillatory activity.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Alpha Rhythm*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Electromagnetic Fields
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Visual Perception / physiology*