Whereas subcortical structures such as the basal ganglia have been widely explored in relation to motor control, recent evidence suggests that their mechanisms extend to the domain of attentional switching. We here investigated the subcortical involvement in reward related top-down control of visual alpha-band oscillations (8-13 Hz), which have been consistently linked to mechanisms supporting the allocation of visuospatial attention. Given that items associated with contextual saliency (e.g., monetary reward or loss) attract attention, it is not surprising that the acquired salience of visual items further modulates. The executive networks controlling such reward-dependent modulations of oscillatory brain activity have yet to be fully elucidated. Although such networks have been explored in terms of corticocortical interactions, subcortical regions are likely to be involved. To uncover this, we combined MRI and MEG data from 17 male and 11 female participants, investigating whether derived measures of subcortical structural asymmetries predict interhemispheric modulation of alpha power during a spatial attention task. We show that volumetric hemispheric lateralization of globus pallidus (GP) and thalamus (Th) explains individual hemispheric biases in the ability to modulate posterior alpha power. Importantly, for the GP, this effect became stronger when the value saliency parings in the task increased. Our findings suggest that the GP and Th in humans are part of a subcortical executive control network, differentially involved in modulating posterior alpha activity in the presence of saliency. Further investigation aimed at uncovering the interaction between subcortical and neocortical attentional networks would provide useful insight in future studies. SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Whereas the involvement of subcortical regions into higher level cognitive processing, such as attention and reward attribution, has been already indicated in previous studies, little is known about its relationship with the functional oscillatory underpinnings of said processes. In particular, interhemispheric modulation of alpha band (8-13 Hz) oscillations, as recorded with magnetoencephalography, has been previously shown to vary as a function of salience (i.e., monetary reward/loss) in a spatial attention task. We here provide novel insights into the link between subcortical and cortical control of visual attention. Using the same reward-related spatial attention paradigm, we show that the volumetric lateralization of subcortical structures (specifically globus pallidus and thalamus) explains individual biases in the modulation of visual alpha activity.
Bibliographical noteCopyright © 2019 the authors
- basal ganglia
- magnetic resonance imaging