What's in Your Gamma? Activation of the Ventral Fronto-Parietal Attentional Network in Response to Distracting Sounds

Cereb Cortex. 2020 Mar 21;30(2):696-707. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhz119.


Auditory attention operates through top-down (TD) and bottom-up (BU) mechanisms that are supported by dorsal and ventral brain networks, respectively, with the main overlap in the lateral prefrontal cortex (lPFC). A good TD/BU balance is essential to be both task-efficient and aware of our environment, yet it is rarely investigated. Oscillatory activity is a novel method to probe the attentional dynamics with evidence that gamma activity (>30 Hz) could signal BU processing and thus would be a good candidate to support the activation of the ventral BU attention network. Magnetoencephalography data were collected from 21 young adults performing the competitive attention task, which enables simultaneous investigation of BU and TD attentional mechanisms. Distracting sounds elicited an increase in gamma activity in regions of the BU ventral network. TD attention modulated these gamma responses in regions of the inhibitory cognitive control system: the medial prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices. Finally, distracting-sound-induced gamma activity was synchronous between the auditory cortices and several distant brain regions, notably the lPFC. We provide novel insight into the role of gamma activity 1) in supporting the activation of the ventral BU attention network and 2) in subtending the TD/BU attention balance in the PFC.

Keywords: attentional capture; auditory attention; gamma oscillations; phase synchrony; prefrontal cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Auditory Cortex / physiology
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Female
  • Gamma Rhythm*
  • Humans
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Young Adult