Neuroscience research has conventionally focused on how the brain processes sensory information, after the information has been received. Recently, increased interest focuses on how the state of the brain upon receiving inputs determines and biases their subsequent processing and interpretation. Here, we investigated such 'pre-stimulus' brain mechanisms and their relevance for objective and subjective visual processing. Using non-invasive focal brain stimulation [transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)] we disrupted spontaneous brain state activity within early visual cortex (EVC) before onset of visual stimulation, at two different pre-stimulus-onset-asynchronies (pSOAs). We found that TMS pulses applied to EVC at either 20 msec or 50 msec before onset of a simple orientation stimulus both prevented this stimulus from reaching visual awareness. Interestingly, only the TMS-induced visual suppression following TMS at a pSOA of -20 msec was retinotopically specific, while TMS at a pSOA of -50 msec was not. In a second experiment, we used more complex symbolic arrow stimuli, and found TMS-induced suppression only when disrupting EVC at a pSOA of approximately -60 msec, which, in line with Experiment 1, was not retinotopically specific. Despite this topographic unspecificity of the -50 msec effect, the additional control measurements as well as tracking and removal of eye blinks, suggested that also this effect was not the result of an unspecific artifact, and thus neural in origin. We therefore obtained evidence of two distinct neural mechanisms taking place in EVC, both determining whether or not subsequent visual inputs are successfully processed by the human visual system.
- Early visual cortex
- HUMAN MOTOR CORTEX
- OBJECTIVE MEASURES
- OCCIPITAL CORTEX
- TRANSCRANIAL MAGNETIC STIMULATION
- Transcranial magnetic stimulation
- Visual perception