Alpha oscillations do not implement gain control in early visual cortex but rather gating in parieto-occipital regions

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Spatial attention provides a mechanism for respectively enhancing relevant and suppressing irrelevant information. While it is well-established that attention modulates oscillations in the alpha band, it remains unclear if alpha oscillations are involved in directly modulating the neuronal excitability associated with the allocation of spatial attention. In this study in humans, we utilized a novel broadband frequency (60 – 70 Hz) tagging paradigm to quantify neuronal excitability in relation to alpha oscillations in a spatial attention paradigm. We used magnetoencephalography to characterize ongoing brain activity as it allows for localizing the sources of both the alpha and frequency tagging responses. We found that attentional modulation of alpha power and the frequency tagging response are uncorrelated over trials. Importantly, the neuronal sources of the tagging response were localized in early visual cortex (V1) whereas the sources of the alpha activity were identified around parieto-occipital sulcus. Moreover, we found that attention did not modulate the latency of the frequency tagged responses. Our findings point to alpha band oscillations serving a downstream gating role rather than implementing gain control of excitability in early visual regions.


Original languageEnglish
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Early online date21 Aug 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 21 Aug 2020


  • alpha oscillations, frequency tagging, magnetoencephalography, response latency, spatial attention