Parietal but not temporoparietal alpha-tACS modulates endogenous visuospatial attention

Kemmerer, S. K., De Graaf, T. A., Ten Oever, S., Erkens, M., De Weerd, P., & Sack, A. T. (2022). Parietal but not temporoparietal alpha-tACS modulates endogenous visuospatial attention. Cortex, 154, 149-166. doi:10.1016/j.cortex.2022.01.021.
Visuospatial attention can either be voluntarily directed (endogenous/top-down attention) or automatically triggered (exogenous/bottom-up attention). Recent research showed that dorsal parietal transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) at alpha frequency modulates the spatial attentional bias in an endogenous but not in an exogenous visuospatial attention task. Yet, the reason for this task-specificity remains unexplored. Here, we tested whether this dissociation relates to the proposed differential role of the dorsal attention network (DAN) and ventral attention network (VAN) in endogenous and exogenous attention processes respectively. To that aim, we targeted the left and right dorsal parietal node of the DAN, as well as the left and right ventral temporoparietal node of the VAN using tACS at the individual alpha frequency. Every participant completed all four stimulation conditions and a sham condition in five separate sessions. During tACS, we assessed the behavioral visuospatial attention bias via an endogenous and exogenous visuospatial attention task. Additionally, we measured offline alpha power immediately before and after tACS using electroencephalography (EEG). The behavioral data revealed an effect of tACS on the endogenous but not exogenous attention bias, with a greater leftward bias during (sham-corrected) left than right hemispheric stimulation. In line with our hypothesis, this effect was brain area-specific, i.e., present for dorsal parietal but not ventral temporoparietal tACS. However, contrary to our expectations, there was no effect of ventral temporoparietal tACS on the exogenous visuospatial attention bias. Hence, no double dissociation between the two targeted attention networks. There was no effect of either tACS condition on offline alpha power. Our behavioral data reveal that dorsal parietal but not ventral temporoparietal alpha oscillations steer endogenous visuospatial attention. This brain-area specific tACS effect matches the previously proposed dissociation between the DAN and VAN and, by showing that the spatial attention bias effect does not generalize to any lateral posterior tACS montage, renders lateral cutaneous and retinal effects for the spatial attention bias in the dorsal parietal condition unlikely. Yet the absence of tACS effects on the exogenous attention task suggests that ventral temporoparietal alpha oscillations are not functionally relevant for exogenous visuospatial attention. We discuss the potential implications of this finding in the context of an emerging theory on the role of the ventral temporoparietal node.
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