Probing cortical excitability using rapid frequency tagging

Neuroimage. 2019 Jul 15;195:59-66. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.03.056. Epub 2019 Mar 28.


Frequency tagging has been widely used to study the role of visual selective attention. Presenting a visual stimulus flickering at a specific frequency generates so-called steady-state visually evoked responses. However, frequency tagging is mostly done at lower frequencies (<30 Hz). This produces a visible flicker, potentially interfering with both perception and neuronal oscillations in the theta, alpha and beta band. To overcome these problems, we used a newly developed projector with a 1440 Hz refresh rate allowing for frequency tagging at higher frequencies. We asked participants to perform a cued spatial attention task in which imperative pictorial stimuli were presented at 63 Hz or 78 Hz while measuring whole-head magnetoencephalography (MEG). We found posterior sensors to show a strong response at the tagged frequency. Importantly, this response was enhanced by spatial attention. Furthermore, we reproduced the typical modulations of alpha band oscillations, i.e., decrease in the alpha power contralateral to the attentional cue. The decrease in alpha power and increase in frequency tagged signal with attention correlated over subjects. We hereby provide proof-of-principle for the use of high-frequency tagging to study sensory processing and neuronal excitability associated with attention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetoencephalography / methods
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology