Auditory cortical generators of the Frequency Following Response are modulated by intermodal attention

Thomas Hartmann, Nathan Weisz
NeuroImage 2019 September 11, : 116185
The efferent auditory system suggests that brainstem auditory regions could also be sensitive to top-down processes. In electrophysiology, the Frequency Following Response (FFR) to speech stimuli has been used extensively to study brainstem areas. Despite seemingly straight-forward in addressing the issue of attentional modulations of brainstem regions by means of the FFR, the existing results are inconsistent. Moreover, the notion that the FFR exclusively represents subcortical generators has been challenged. We aimed to gain a more differentiated perspective on how the generators of the FFR are modulated by either attending to the visual or auditory input while neural activity was recorded using magnetoencephalography (MEG). In a first step our results confirm the strong contribution of also cortical regions to the FFR. Interestingly, of all regions exhibiting a measurable FFR response, only the right primary auditory cortex was significantly affected by intermodal attention. By showing a clear cortical contribution to the attentional FFR effect, our work significantly extends previous reports that focus on surface level recordings only. It underlines the importance of making a greater effort to disentangle the different contributing sources of the FFR and serves as a clear precaution of simplistically interpreting the FFR as brainstem response.

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