Modulations in oscillatory activity with amplitude asymmetry can produce cognitively relevant event-related responses.

Dijk H van, der Werf J van, A Mazaheri, WP Medendorp, O Jensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Event-related responses and oscillatory activity are typically regarded as manifestations of different neural processes. Recent work has nevertheless revealed a mechanism by which slow event-related responses are created as a direct consequence of modulations in brain oscillations with nonsinusoidal properties. It remains unknown if this mechanism applies to cognitively relevant event-related responses. Here, we investigated whether sustained event-related fields (ERFs) measured during working memory maintenance can be explained by modulations in oscillatory power. In particular, we focused on contralateral delayed activity (CDA) typically observed in working memory tasks in which hemifield specific attention is manipulated. Using magnetoencephalography, we observed sustained posterior ERFs following the presentation of the memory target. These ERFs were systematically lateralized with respect to the hemisphere in which the target was presented. A strikingly similar pattern emerged for modulations in alpha (9–13 Hz) power. The alpha power and ERF lateralization were strongly correlated over subjects. Based on a mechanistic argument pertaining to the nonsinusoidal properties of the alpha activity, we conclude that the ERFs modulated by working memory are likely to be directly produced by the modulations in oscillatory alpha activity. Given that posterior alpha activity typically reflects disengagement, we conclude that the CDA is not attributable to an additive process reflecting memory maintenance per se but, rather, is a consequence of how attentional resources are allocated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)900-905
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2010


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