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Curr Biol. 2012 May 8;22(9):807-13. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2012.03.025. Epub 2012 Apr 12.

Sounds reset rhythms of visual cortex and corresponding human visual perception.

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Institute of Neuroscience and Psychology, University of Glasgow, 58 Hillhead Street, Glasgow G12 8QB, UK.


An event in one sensory modality can phase reset brain oscillations concerning another modality. In principle, this may result in stimulus-locked periodicity in behavioral performance. Here we considered this possible cross-modal impact of a sound for one of the best-characterized rhythms arising from the visual system, namely occipital alpha-oscillations (8-14 Hz). We presented brief sounds and concurrently recorded electroencephalography (EEG) and/or probed visual cortex excitability (phosphene perception) through occipital transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). In a first, TMS-only experiment, phosphene perception rate against time postsound showed a periodic pattern cycling at ~10 Hz phase-aligned to the sound. In a second, combined TMS-EEG experiment, TMS-trials reproduced the cyclical phosphene pattern and revealed a ~10 Hz pattern also for EEG-derived measures of occipital cortex reactivity to the TMS pulses. Crucially, EEG-data from intermingled trials without TMS established cross-modal phase-locking of occipitoparietal alpha oscillations. These independently recorded variables, i.e., occipital cortex excitability and reactivity and EEG phase dynamics, were significantly correlated. This shows that cross-modal phase locking of oscillatory visual cortex activity can arise in the human brain to affect perceptual and EEG measures of visual processing in a cyclical manner, consistent with occipital alpha oscillations underlying a rapid cycling of neural excitability in visual areas.

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