Letter

Nature 439, 733-736 (9 February 2006) | doi:10.1038/nature04258

Gamma-band synchronization in visual cortex predicts speed of change detection

Thilo Womelsdorf1,6, Pascal Fries1,2,6, Partha P. Mitra3 and Robert Desimone4,5

Our capacity to process and respond behaviourally to multiple incoming stimuli is very limited. To optimize the use of this limited capacity, attentional mechanisms give priority to behaviourally relevant stimuli at the expense of irrelevant distractors. In visual areas, attended stimuli induce enhanced responses and an improved synchronization of rhythmic neuronal activity in the gamma frequency band (40–70 Hz)1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. Both effects probably improve the neuronal signalling of attended stimuli within and among brain areas1, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16. Attention also results in improved behavioural performance and shortened reaction times. However, it is not known how reaction times are related to either response strength or gamma-band synchronization in visual areas. Here we show that behavioural response times to a stimulus change can be predicted specifically by the degree of gamma-band synchronization among those neurons in monkey visual area V4 that are activated by the behaviourally relevant stimulus. When there are two visual stimuli and monkeys have to detect a change in one stimulus while ignoring the other, their reactions are fastest when the relevant stimulus induces strong gamma-band synchronization before and after the change in stimulus. This enhanced gamma-band synchronization is also followed by shorter neuronal response latencies on the fast trials. Conversely, the monkeys' reactions are slowest when gamma-band synchronization is high in response to the irrelevant distractor. Thus, enhanced neuronal gamma-band synchronization and shortened neuronal response latencies to an attended stimulus seem to have direct effects on visually triggered behaviour, reflecting an early neuronal correlate of efficient visuo-motor integration.

  1. FC Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, Radboud University Nijmegen, 6525 EN Nijmegen, The Netherlands
  2. Department of Biophysics, Radboud University Nijmegen, 6525 EZ Nijmegen, The Netherlands
  3. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor, New York 11724, USA
  4. Laboratory of Neuropsychology, National Institute of Mental Health, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA
  5. McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139, USA
  6. *These authors contributed equally to this work

Correspondence to: Thilo Womelsdorf1,6 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to T.W. (Email: t.womelsdorf@fcdonders.ru.nl).

Received 1 June 2005; Accepted 23 September 2005

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