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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Long-range neural synchronization in attention and perceptual consciousness Doesburg, Sam McLeod

Abstract

Cognition is dynamic and complex, requiring specific sets of brain areas to cooperate for specific tasks. Neural synchronization is a proposed mechanism for transient functional integration of specific neural populations, enabling feature flexible binding and dynamic assignment of functional connectivity in the brain according to task demands. This thesis addresses the role of neural synchronization in selective attention and perceptual consciousness. The goals of this thesis are to test the hypothesis that synchronization between brain regions is relevant to network dynamics in selective attention and for perceptual organization, and to elucidate the function of synchronization in different frequency ranges. Using a selective visuospatial cuing paradigm it is shown that deploying attention to one visual hemifield yields transient long-distance gamma-band synchronization between contralateral visual cortex and other, widespread, brain regions. This is interpreted as a mechanism for establishing anticipatory biasing of communication in the cortex. Long-distance gamma synchrony, moreover, is periodically 'refreshed' at a theta rate, possibly serving to maintain this gamma network. While local alpha-band activity was found to be greater ipsilateral to the attended visual hemifield, alpha-band synchronization between primary visual cortex and higher visual areas was greater contralateral to attended locations. This suggests that local alpha synchrony is relevant for inhibition, while long-range alpha synchronization enacts functional coupling. The onset of a new conscious percept during binocular rivalry coincides with large-scale gamma-band synchronization which recurs at a theta rate. This suggests that gamma synchronization integrates features into a unified conscious percept while the theta cycle maintains that network. Using an audiovisual speech integration paradigm it is shown that large-scale gamma synchronization is greater when incongruence is detected between auditory and visual streams. This highlights an important distinction: neural synchronization reflects neural integration, not perceptual integration. Perceptual integration typically requires neural integration (feature binding), however, in this case detection of audiovisual mismatches requires cooperation within a distributed network, whereas audiovisual speech integration is largely accomplished in superior temporal cortex. These studies indicate that long-distance gamma synchronization establishes neural integration, the theta cycle maintains gamma synchronous networks, and local and long-range alpha synchrony reflect sustained inhibition and functional coupling mechanisms, respectively.

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