The role of the right superior temporal gyrus in stimulus-centered spatial processing

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Although emerging neuropsychological evidence supports the involvement of temporal areas, and in particular the right superior temporal gyrus (STG), in allocentric neglect deficits, the role of STG in healthy spatial processing remains elusive. While several functional brain imaging studies have demonstrated involvement of the STG in tasks involving explicit stimulus-centered judgments, prior rTMS studies targeting the right STG did not find the expected neglect-like rightward bias in size judgments using the conventional landmark task. The objective of the current study was to investigate whether disruption of the right STG using inhibitory repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) could impact stimulus-centered, allocentric spatial processing in healthy individuals. A lateralized version of the landmark task was developed to accentuate the dissociation between viewer-centered and stimulus-centered reference frames. We predicted that inhibiting activity in the right STG would decrease accuracy because of induced rightward bias centered on the line stimulus irrespective of its viewer-centered or egocentric locations.

Eleven healthy, right-handed adults underwent the lateralized landmark task. After viewing each stimulus, participants had to judge whether the line was bisected, or whether the left (left-long trials) or the right segment (right-long trials) of the line was longer. Participants repeated the task before (pre-rTMS) and after (post-rTMS) receiving 20min of 1Hz rTMS over the right STG, the right supramarginal gyrus (SMG), and the vertex (a control site) during three separate visits. Linear mixed models for binomial data were generated with either accuracy or judgment errors as dependent variables, to compare 1) performance across trial types (bisection, non-bisection), and 2) pre- vs. post-rTMS performance between the vertex and the STG and the vertex and the SMG.

Line eccentricity (z=4.31, p<0.0001) and line bisection (z=5.49, p<0.0001) were significant predictors of accuracy. In the models comparing the effects of rTMS, a significant two-way interaction with STG (z=−3.09, p=0.002) revealed a decrease in accuracy of 9.5% and an increase in errors of the right-long type by 10.7% on bisection trials, in both left and right viewer-centered locations. No significant changes in leftward errors were found. These findings suggested an induced stimulus-centered rightward bias in our participants after STG stimulation. Notably, accuracy or errors were not influenced by SMG stimulation compared to vertex.

In line with our predictions, the findings provide compelling evidence for right STG's involvement in healthy stimulus-centered spatial processing.

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