On the relationship between cortical excitability and visual oscillatory responses — A concurrent tDCS–MEG study

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Neuronal oscillations in the alpha band (8–12 Hz) in visual cortex are considered to instantiate ‘attentional gating’ via the inhibition of activity in regions representing task-irrelevant parts of space. In contrast, visual gamma-band activity (40–100 Hz) is regarded as representing a bottom-up drive from incoming visual information, with increased synchronisation producing a stronger feedforward impulse for relevant information. However, little is known about the direct relationship between excitability of the visual cortex and these oscillatory mechanisms. In this study we used transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) in an Oz–Cz montage in order to stimulate visual cortex, concurrently recording whole-brain oscillatory activity using magnetoencephalography (MEG) whilst participants performed a visual task known to produce strong modulations of alpha- and gamma-band activity. We found that visual stimuli produced expected modulations of alpha and gamma – presenting a moving annulus stimulus led to a strong gamma increase and alpha decrease – and that this pattern was observable both during active (anodal and cathodal) tDCS and sham tDCS. However, tDCS did not seem to produce systematic alterations of these oscillatory responses. The present study thus demonstrates that concurrent tDCS/MEG of the visual system is a feasible tool for investigating visual neuronal oscillations, and we discuss potential reasons for the apparent inability of tDCS to effectively change the amplitude of visual stimulus induced oscillatory responses in the current study.

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