April 2017, Vol. 29, No. 4, Pages 605-618
An organism's current behavioral state influences ongoing brain activity. Nonhuman mammalian and invertebrate brains exhibit large increases in the gain of feature-selective neural responses in sensory cortex during locomotion, suggesting that the visual system becomes more sensitive when actively exploring the environment. This raises the possibility that human vision is also more sensitive during active movement. To investigate this possibility, we used an inverted encoding model technique to estimate feature-selective neural response profiles from EEG data acquired from participants performing an orientation discrimination task. Participants (n = 18) fixated at the center of a flickering (15 Hz) circular grating presented at one of nine different orientations and monitored for a brief shift in orientation that occurred on every trial. Participants completed the task while seated on a stationary exercise bike at rest and during low- and high-intensity cycling. We found evidence for inverted-U effects; such that the peak of the reconstructed feature-selective tuning profiles was highest during low-intensity exercise compared with those estimated during rest and high-intensity exercise. When modeled, these effects were driven by changes in the gain of the tuning curve and in the profile bandwidth during low-intensity exercise relative to rest. Thus, despite profound differences in visual pathways across species, these data show that sensitivity in human visual cortex is also enhanced during locomotive behavior. Our results reveal the nature of exercise-induced gain on feature-selective coding in human sensory cortex and provide valuable evidence linking the neural mechanisms of behavior state across species.