Distributed Attention Is Implemented through Theta-Rhythmic Gamma Modulation

Curr Biol. 2015 Aug 31;25(17):2332-7. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.07.048. Epub 2015 Aug 13.


When subjects monitor a single location, visual target detection depends on the pre-target phase of an ∼8 Hz brain rhythm. When multiple locations are monitored, performance decrements suggest a division of the 8 Hz rhythm over the number of locations, indicating that different locations are sequentially sampled. Indeed, when subjects monitor two locations, performance benefits alternate at a 4 Hz rhythm. These performance alternations were revealed after a reset of attention to one location. Although resets are common and important events for attention, it is unknown whether, in the absence of resets, ongoing attention samples stimuli in alternation. Here, we examined whether spatially specific attentional sampling can be revealed by ongoing pre-target brain rhythms. Visually induced gamma-band activity plays a role in spatial attention. Therefore, we hypothesized that performance on two simultaneously monitored stimuli can be predicted by a 4 Hz modulation of gamma-band activity. Brain rhythms were assessed with magnetoencephalography (MEG) while subjects monitored bilateral grating stimuli for a unilateral target event. The corresponding contralateral gamma-band responses were subtracted from each other to isolate spatially selective, target-related fluctuations. The resulting lateralized gamma-band activity (LGA) showed opposite pre-target 4 Hz phases for detected versus missed targets. The 4 Hz phase of pre-target LGA accounted for a 14.5% modulation in performance. These findings suggest that spatial attention is a theta-rhythmic sampling process that is continuously ongoing, with each sampling cycle being implemented through gamma-band synchrony.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention*
  • Female
  • Gamma Rhythm*
  • Humans
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Male
  • Theta Rhythm*
  • Young Adult