Attention modulates the gating of primary somatosensory oscillations

Alex I. Wiesman, Tony W. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Sensory gating (SG) is a well-studied phenomenon in which neural responses are reduced to identical stimuli presented in succession, and is thought to represent the functional inhibition of primary sensory information that is redundant in nature. SG is traditionally considered pre-attentive, but little is known about the effects of attentional state on this process. In this study, we investigate the impact of directed attention on somatosensory SG using magnetoencephalography. Healthy young adults (n ​= ​26) performed a novel somato-visual paired-pulse oddball paradigm, in which attention was directed towards or away from paired-pulse stimulation of the left median nerve. We observed a robust evoked (i.e., phase-locked) somatosensory response in the time domain, and three stereotyped oscillatory responses in the time-frequency domain including an early theta response (4–8 ​Hz), and later alpha (8–14 ​Hz) and beta (20–26 ​Hz) responses across attentional states. The amplitudes of the evoked response and the theta and beta oscillations were gated for the second stimulus, however, only the gating of the oscillatory responses was altered by attention. Specifically, directing attention to the somatosensory domain enhanced SG of the early theta response, while reducing SG of the later alpha and beta responses. Further, prefrontal alpha-band coherence with the primary somatosensory cortex was greater when attention was directed towards the somatosensory domain, supporting a frontal modulatory effect on the alpha response in primary somatosensory regions. These findings highlight the dynamic effects of attentional modulation on somatosensory processing, and the importance of considering attentional state in studies of SG.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number116610
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • Attention
  • Neural oscillations
  • Sensory gating
  • Somatosensation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience


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