Attention-based modulation of tactile stimuli: A comparison between prefrontal lesion patients and healthy age-matched controls
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OBJECTIVES: To investigate the role of the prefrontal cortex in attention-based modulation of cortical somatosensory processing. METHODS: Six prefrontal stroke patients were compared with eleven neurologically intact older adults during a vibrotactile discrimination task. All subjects attended to stimuli on one digit while ignoring distracter stimuli on a separate digit of the same hand. Subjects were required to report infrequent targets on the attended digit only. Throughout testing electroencephalography was used to measure event-related potentials for both task-relevant and irrelevant stimuli. RESULTS: Prefrontal patients demonstrated significant changes in cortical somatosensory processing based on attention compared to age-matched controls. This was evident both in early unimodal somatosensory processing (i.e. P100) and in later cortical processing stages (i.e. long-latency positivity). Moreover, there was a tendency towards a tonic loss of inhibition over early somatosensory cortical processing (i.e. P50). CONCLUSIONS: The attention-based modulation noted for neurologically intact older adults was absent in prefrontal lesion patients. SIGNIFICANCE: The present study highlights the important role of prefrontal regions in sustaining inhibition over early sensory cortical processing stages and in modifying somatosensory transmission based on task-relevance. Notably these deficits extend beyond those previously shown to occur as a function of age.
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