Attention Modulates TMS-Locked Alpha Oscillations in the Visual Cortex

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Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University, Kapittelweg 29, 6525 EN, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
  • University of Glasgow
  • Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Radboud University Nijmegen, 6525 EN Nijmegen, The Netherlands, Institute of Psychology, Christian-Albrechts University of Kiel, 24118 Kiel, Germany, Department of Neurology and Stroke, and Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research, and Institute for Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology, University of Tübingen, 72076 Tübingen, Germany, and


Cortical oscillations, such as 8-12 Hz alpha-band activity, are thought to subserve gating of information processing in the human brain. While most of the supporting evidence is correlational, causal evidence comes from attempts to externally drive ("entrain") these oscillations by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). Indeed, the frequency profile of TMS-evoked potentials (TEPs) closely resembles that of oscillations spontaneously emerging in the same brain region. However, it is unclear whether TMS-locked and spontaneous oscillations are produced by the same neuronal mechanisms. If so, they should react in a similar manner to top-down modulation by endogenous attention. To test this prediction, we assessed the alpha-like EEG response to TMS of the visual cortex during periods of high and low visual attention while participants attended to either the visual or auditory modality in a cross-modal attention task. We observed a TMS-locked local oscillatory alpha response lasting several cycles after TMS (but not after sham stimulation). Importantly, TMS-locked alpha power was suppressed during deployment of visual relative to auditory attention, mirroring spontaneous alpha amplitudes. In addition, the early N40 TEP component, located at the stimulation site, was amplified by visual attention. The extent of attentional modulation for both TMS-locked alpha power and N40 amplitude did depend, with opposite sign, on the individual ability to modulate spontaneous alpha power at the stimulation site. We therefore argue that TMS-locked and spontaneous oscillations are of common neurophysiological origin, whereas the N40 TEP component may serve as an index of current cortical excitability at the time of stimulation.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14435-14447
Number of pages13
JournalThe Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number43
Publication statusPublished - 28 Oct 2015


  • alpha oscillations, auditory attention, TMS-EEG, TMS-evoked potential, transcranial magnetic stimulation, visual attention