Theta-burst TMS of lateral occipital cortex reduces BOLD responses across category-selective areas in ventral temporal cortex

Neuroimage. 2021 Apr 15;230:117790. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.117790. Epub 2021 Jan 23.


Human visual cortex contains three scene-selective regions in the lateral, medial and ventral cortex, termed the occipital place area (OPA), medial place area (MPA) and parahippocampal place area (PPA). Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), all three regions respond more strongly when viewing visual scenes compared with isolated objects or faces. To determine how these regions are functionally and causally connected, we applied transcranial magnetic stimulation to OPA and measured fMRI responses before and after stimulation, using a theta-burst paradigm (TBS). To test for stimulus category-selectivity, we presented a range of visual categories (scenes, buildings, objects, faces). To test for specificity of any effects to TBS of OPA we employed two control conditions: Sham, with no TBS stimulation, and an active TBS-control with TBS to a proximal face-selective cortical region (occipital face area, or OFA). We predicted that TBS to OPA (but not OFA) would lead to decreased responses to scenes and buildings (but not other categories) in other scene-selective cortical regions. Across both ROI and whole-volume analyses, we observed decreased responses to scenes in PPA as a result of TBS. However, these effects were neither category specific, with decreased responses to all stimulus categories, nor limited to scene-selective regions, with decreases also observed in face-selective fusiform face area (FFA). Furthermore, similar effects were observed with TBS to OFA, thus effects were not specific to the stimulation site in the lateral occipital cortex. Whilst these data are suggestive of a causal, but non-specific relationship between lateral occipital and ventral temporal cortex, we discuss several factors that could have underpinned this result, such as the differences between TBS and online TMS, the role of anatomical distance between stimulated regions and how TMS effects are operationalised. Furthermore, our findings highlight the importance of active control conditions in brain stimulation experiments to accurately assess functional and causal connectivity between specific brain regions.

Trial registration: NCT00001360 NCT01617408.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Occipital Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Occipital Lobe / metabolism*
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Temporal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Temporal Lobe / metabolism*
  • Theta Rhythm / physiology*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*
  • Young Adult

Associated data