Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
We investigated the dynamics of brain processes facilitating conscious experience of external stimuli. Previously, we proposed that alpha (8–12 Hz) oscillations, which fluctuate with both sustained and directed attention, represent a pulsed inhibition of ongoing sensory brain activity. Here we tested the prediction that inhibitory alpha oscillations in visual cortex are modulated by top–down signals from frontoparietal attention networks. We measured modulations in phase-coherent alpha oscillations from superficial frontal, parietal, and occipital cortices using the event-related optical signal (EROS), a measure of neuronal activity affording high spatiotemporal resolution, along with concurrently recorded EEG, while participants performed a visual target detection task. The pretarget alpha oscillations measured with EEG and EROS from posterior areas were larger for subsequently undetected targets, supporting alpha's inhibitory role. Using EROS, we localized brain correlates of these awareness-related alpha oscillations measured at the scalp to the cuneus and precuneus. Crucially, EROS alpha suppression correlated with posterior EEG alpha power across participants. Sorting the EROS data based on EEG alpha power quartiles to investigate alpha modulators revealed that suppression of posterior alpha was preceded by increased activity in regions of the dorsal attention network and decreased activity in regions of the cingulo-opercular network. Cross-correlations revealed the temporal dynamics of activity within these preparatory networks before posterior alpha modulation. The novel combination of EEG and EROS afforded localization of the sources and correlates of alpha oscillations and their temporal relationships, supporting our proposal that top–down control from attention networks modulates both posterior alpha and awareness of visual stimuli.