High-definition transcranial direct current stimulation dissociates fronto-visual theta lateralization during visual selective attention

Rachel K. Spooner, Jacob A. Eastman, Michael T. Rezich, Tony W. Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Key points: Visual attention involves discrete multispectral oscillatory responses in visual and ‘higher-order’ prefrontal cortices. Prefrontal cortex laterality effects during visual selective attention are poorly characterized. High-definition transcranial direct current stimulation dynamically modulated right-lateralized fronto-visual theta oscillations compared to those observed in left fronto-visual pathways. Increased connectivity in right fronto-visual networks after stimulation of the left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex resulted in faster task performance in the context of distractors. Our findings show clear laterality effects in theta oscillatory activity along prefrontal–visual cortical pathways during visual selective attention. Abstract: Studies of visual attention have implicated oscillatory activity in the recognition, protection and temporal organization of attended representations in visual cortices. These studies have also shown that higher-order regions such as the prefrontal cortex are critical to attentional processing, but far less is understood regarding prefrontal laterality differences in attention processing. To examine this, we selectively applied high-definition transcranial direct current stimulation (HD-tDCS) to the left or right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC). We predicted that HD-tDCS of the left versus right prefrontal cortex would differentially modulate performance on a visual selective attention task, and alter the underlying oscillatory network dynamics. Our randomized crossover design included 27 healthy adults that underwent three separate sessions of HD-tDCS (sham, left DLPFC and right DLPFC) for 20 min. Following stimulation, participants completed an attention protocol during magnetoencephalography. The resulting oscillatory dynamics were imaged using beamforming, and peak task-related neural activity was subjected to dynamic functional connectivity analyses to evaluate the impact of stimulation site (i.e. left and right DLPFC) on neural interactions. Our results indicated that HD-tDCS over the left DLPFC differentially modulated right fronto-visual functional connectivity within the theta band compared to HD-tDCS of the right DLPFC and further, specifically modulated the oscillatory response for detecting targets among an array of distractors. Importantly, these findings provide network-specific insight into the complex oscillatory mechanisms serving visual selective attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)987-998
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Physiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 2020


  • flanker task
  • functional connectivity
  • magnetoencephalography
  • theta oscillations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology


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