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Int J Psychophysiol. 2006 Aug;61(2):149-57. Epub 2005 Nov 28.

Complex slow potential generators in a simplified attention paradigm.

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Department of Psychiatry, Faculty of Medicine, University of São Paulo, Brazil.


We have recently obtained evidence for complex multifocal, individually variable generators of slow cortical potentials, elicited during performance of visual tasks involving expecting attention, comparison and memory [Basile, L.F.H., Ballester, G., Castro, C.C., and Gattaz, W.F., 2002. Multifocal slow potential generators revealed by high-resolution EEG and current density reconstruction. Int. J. Psychophysiol., 45 (3), 227-240; Basile, L.F.H, Baldo, M.V., Castro, C.C., and Gattaz, W.F. 2003. The generators of slow potentials obtained during verbal, pictorial and spatial tasks. Int. J. Psychophysiol., 48, 55-65]. The cue-target aspect of traditional paradigms for attention studies is equivalent to 'warning S1'-'imperative S2' in slow potential designs. We simplified Posner's spatial cueing task [Posner, M.I. 1980. Orienting of attention.Q. J. Exp. Psychol. Feb;32 (1), 3-25; Posner, M.I., Snyder, C.R., Davidson, B.J. 1980. Attention and the detection of signals. J Exp Psychol. Jun; 109 (2), 160-174] to temporal cuing only, by using visual cues to indicate the mere presence, on a known central position, of the eventual target (17 ms duration, +/-0.3 degrees grey circle). We recorded slow potentials on 12 healthy subjects, by 124-channel EEG system (Neuroscan Inc.), and modeled their generators using current density reconstruction (CDR) by L(p) 1.2 norm minimization ("Curry V4.6", Neurosoft Inc.) applied to the target onset time. MRIs were obtained for each subject for constraining source models to individual brain anatomy. Average slow potentials were computed from above 60 artifact-free EEG-epochs (ISI=1.6 s, average ITI=2.5 s). We tabulated individual cortical current distributions by cytoarchitectonic area of Brodmann, after scaling into negligible, low, moderate and strong local density, based on percentile bands with respect to absolute maximum current. Despite the task's simplicity, the main result was individual variability and complexity in both scalp voltage and cortical current distributions. As observed in our previous studies, there was strong intersubject variability in the exact distribution of task-related cortical activity. Only parietal area 7 bilaterally was non-negligibly active in all subjects (currents above 10% maximum). As opposed to drawing conclusions based on group averaged data, we propose that activity by cytoarchitectonic area be ranked and statistically analysed only after being scaled on each individual. Based on the present results, the concept of a universal attention-related set of cortical areas if restricted to common areas across subjects is challenged, since even area 7 may no longer be common when the sample size becomes larger. We discuss the fact that group averaging may de-emphasize weakly but consistently active areas, and emphasize strongly but inconsistently active ones.

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