Distinct phase-amplitude couplings distinguish cognitive processes in human attention

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Spatial attention is the cognitive function that coordinates the selection of visual stimuli with appropriate behavioral responses. Recent studies have reported that phase-amplitude coupling (PAC) of low and high frequencies covaries with spatial attention, but differ on the direction of covariation and the frequency ranges involved. We hypothesized that distinct phase-amplitude frequency pairs have differentiable contributions during tasks that manipulate spatial attention. We investigated this hypothesis with electrocorticography (ECoG) recordings from participants who engaged in a cued spatial attention task. To understand the contribution of PAC to spatial attention we classified cortical sites by their relationship to spatial variables or behavioral performance. Local neural activity in spatial sites was sensitive to spatial variables in the task, while local neural activity in behavioral sites correlated with reaction time. We found two PAC frequency clusters that covaried with different aspects of the task. During a period of cued attention, delta-phase/high-gamma (DH) PAC was sensitive to cue direction in spatial sites. In contrast, theta-alpha-phase/beta-low-gamma-amplitude (TABL) PAC robustly correlated with future reaction times in behavioral sites. Finally, we investigated the origins of TABL PAC and found it corresponded to behaviorally relevant, sharp waveforms, which were also coupled to a low frequency rhythm. We conclude that TABL and DH PAC correspond to distinct mechanisms during spatial attention tasks and that sharp waveforms are elements of a coupled dynamical process.

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