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Causal links between parietal alpha activity and spatial auditory attention

  1. Yuqi Deng
  2. Robert MG Reinhart
  3. Inyong Choi
  4. Barbara G Shinn-Cunningham  Is a corresponding author
  1. Boston University, United States
  2. University of Iowa, United States
  3. Carnegie Mellon University, United States
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2019;8:e51184 doi: 10.7554/eLife.51184


Both visual and auditory spatial selective attention result in lateralized alpha (8-14 Hz) oscillatory power in parietal cortex: alpha increases in the hemisphere ipsilateral to attentional focus. Brain stimulation studies suggest a causal relationship between parietal alpha and suppression of the representation of contralateral visual space. However, there is no evidence that parietal alpha controls auditory spatial attention. Here, we performed high definition transcranial alternating current stimulation (HD-tACS) on human subjects performing an auditory task in which they directed attention based on either spatial or nonspatial features. Alpha (10 Hz) but not theta (6 Hz) HD-tACS of right parietal cortex interfered with attending left but not right auditory space. Parietal stimulation had no effect for nonspatial auditory attention. Moreover, performance in post-stimulation trials returned rapidly to baseline. These results demonstrate a causal, frequency-, hemispheric-, and task-specific effect of parietal alpha brain stimulation on top-down control of auditory spatial attention.

Data availability

Data are available from Dryad at https://dx.doi.org/10.5061/dryad.c031nv7

The following data sets were generated

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Yuqi Deng

    Biomedical Engineering, Boston University, Boston, United States
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
  2. Robert MG Reinhart

    Psychological and Brain Sciences, Boston University, Boston, United States
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
  3. Inyong Choi

    Communication Sciences and Disorders, University of Iowa, Iowa, United States
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
  4. Barbara G Shinn-Cunningham

    Carnegie Mellon Neuroscience Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, United States
    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    Barbara G Shinn-Cunningham, Senior editor, eLife.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-5096-5914


National Institutes of Health (R01 DC015988)

  • Barbara G Shinn-Cunningham

Office of Naval Research (N000141812069)

  • Barbara G Shinn-Cunningham

National Institutes of Health (R01 MH-114877)

  • Robert MG Reinhart

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.


Human subjects: All subjects gave informed consent, as approved by the Boston University Charles River Campus IRB, under protocol 3597E.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Huan Luo, Peking University, China

Publication history

  1. Received: August 19, 2019
  2. Accepted: November 28, 2019
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: November 29, 2019 (version 1)
  4. Version of Record published: December 10, 2019 (version 2)


© 2019, Deng et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


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