Although, on average, the magnitude of alpha oscillations (8 to 12 Hz) is decreased in task-relevant cortices during externally oriented attention, its fluctuations have significant consequences, with increased level of alpha associated with decreased level of visual processing and poorer behavioral performance. Functional MRI signals exhibit similar fluctuations. The default mode network (DMN) is on average deactivated in cognitive tasks requiring externally oriented attention. Momentarily insufficient deactivation of DMN, however, is often accompanied by decreased efficiency in stimulus processing, leading to attentional lapses. These observations appear to suggest that visual alpha power and DMN activity may be positively correlated. To what extent such correlation is preserved in the resting state is unclear. We addressed this problem by recording simultaneous EEG-fMRI from healthy human participants under two resting-state conditions: eyes-closed and eyes-open. Short-time visual alpha power was extracted as time series, which was then convolved with a canonical hemodynamic response function (HRF), and correlated with blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signals. It was found that visual alpha power was positively correlated with DMN BOLD activity only when the eyes were open; no such correlation existed when the eyes were closed. Functionally, this could be interpreted as indicating that (1) under the eyes-open condition, strong DMN activity is associated with reduced visual cortical excitability, which serves to block external visual input from interfering with introspective mental processing mediated by DMN, while weak DMN activity is associated with increased visual cortical excitability, which helps to facilitate stimulus processing, and (2) under the eyes-closed condition, the lack of external visual input renders such a gating mechanism unnecessary.
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