The cortical generators of P3a and P3b: a LORETA study

Brain Res Bull. 2007 Jul 12;73(4-6):220-30. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresbull.2007.03.003. Epub 2007 Apr 3.


The P3 is probably the most well known component of the brain event-related potentials (ERPs). Using a three-tone oddball paradigm two different components can be identified: the P3b elicited by rare target stimuli and the P3a elicited by the presentation of rare non-target stimuli. Although the two components may partially overlap in time and space, they have a different scalp topography suggesting different neural generators. The present study is aimed at defining the scalp topography of the two P3 components by means of reference-independent methods and identifying their electrical cortical generators by using the low-resolution electromagnetic tomography (LORETA). ERPs were recorded during a three-tone oddball task in 32 healthy, right-handed university students. The scalp topography of the P3 components was assessed by means of the brain electrical microstates technique and their cortical sources were evaluated by LORETA. P3a and P3b showed different scalp topography and cortical sources. The P3a electrical field had a more anterior distribution as compared to the P3b and its generators were localized in cingulate, frontal and right parietal areas. P3b sources included bilateral frontal, parietal, limbic, cingulate and temporo-occipital regions. Differences in scalp topography and cortical sources suggest that the two components reflect different neural processes. Our findings on cortical generators are in line with the hypothesis that P3a reflects the automatic allocation of attention, while P3b is related to the effortful processing of task-relevant events.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cerebral Cortex* / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebral Cortex* / physiology
  • Electromagnetic Phenomena / methods*
  • Event-Related Potentials, P300 / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Tomography / methods*