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Forschack N, Nierhaus T, Müller MM, Villringer A (2017) Alpha-band brain oscillations shape the processing of perceptible as well as imperceptible somatosensory stimuli during selective attention. Journal of Neuroscience, 37(29):6983-6994    
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Attention is crucial in prioritizing processing of relevant perceptible (suprathreshold) stimuli: it filters and weights sensory input. The present study investigates the controversially discussed question whether this attention effect extends to imperceptible (subthreshold) stimuli as well. We found noninvasive EEG signatures for attentional modulation of neural events following perceptible and imperceptible somatosensory stimulation in human participants. Specifically, stimulus processing for both kinds of stimulation, subthreshold and suprathreshold, is enhanced by attention. Interestingly, Rolandic alpha rhythm strength and its influence on stimulus processing are strikingly altered by attention most likely to optimally achieve the behavioral goal
Abstract
Attention filters and weights sensory information according to behavioral demands. Stimulus-related neural responses are increased for the attended stimulus. Does alpha-band activity mediate this effect and is it restricted to conscious sensory events (suprathreshold), or does it also extend to unconscious stimuli (subthreshold)? To address these questions, we recorded EEG in healthy male and female volunteers undergoing subthreshold and suprathreshold somatosensory electrical stimulation to the left or right index finger. The task was to detect stimulation at the randomly alternated cued index finger. Under attention, amplitudes of somatosensory evoked potentials increased 50–60 ms after stimulation (P1) for both suprathreshold and subthreshold events. Prestimulus amplitude of peri-Rolandic alpha, that is mu, showed an inverse relationship to P1 amplitude during attention compared to when the finger was unattended. Interestingly, intermediate and high amplitudes of mu rhythm were associated with the highest P1 amplitudes during attention and smallest P1 during lack of attention, that is, these levels of alpha rhythm seemed to optimally support the behavioral goal (“detect” stimuli at the cued finger while ignoring the other finger). Our results show that attention enhances neural processing for both suprathreshold and subthreshold stimuli and they highlight a rather complex interaction between attention, Rolandic alpha activity, and their effects on stimulus processing