Tactile expectancy modulates occipital alpha oscillations in early blindness
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Ane Gurtubay-Antolin, Ricardo Bruña, Olivier Collignon, Antoni Rodríguez-Fornells, Tactile expectancy modulates occipital alpha oscillations in early blindness, NeuroImage, Volume 265, 2023, 119790, ISSN 1053-8119, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2022.119790
Alpha oscillatory activity is thought to contribute to visual expectancy through the engagement of task-relevant occipital regions. In early blindness, occipital alpha oscillations are systematically reduced, suggesting that occip- ital alpha depends on visual experience. However, it remains possible that alpha activity could serve expectancy in non-visual modalities in blind people, especially considering that previous research has shown the recruitment of the occipital cortex for non-visual processing. To test this idea, we used electroencephalography to examine whether alpha oscillations reflected a differential recruitment of task-relevant regions between expected and unexpected conditions in two haptic tasks (texture and shape discrimination). As expected, sensor-level analy- ses showed that alpha suppression in parieto-occipital sites was significantly reduced in early blind individuals compared with sighted participants. The source reconstruction analysis revealed that group differences origi- nated in the middle occipital cortex. In that region, expected trials evoked higher alpha desynchronization than unexpected trials in the early blind group only. Our results support the role of alpha rhythms in the recruit- ment of occipital areas in early blind participants, and for the first time we show that although posterior alpha activity is reduced in blindness, it remains sensitive to expectancy factors. Our findings therefore suggest that occipital alpha activity is involved in tactile expectancy in blind individuals, serving a similar function to vi- sual anticipation in sighted populations but switched to the tactile modality. Altogether, our results indicate that expectancy-dependent modulation of alpha oscillatory activity does not depend on visual experience. Significance statement: Are posterior alpha oscillations and their role in expectancy and anticipation dependent on visual experience? Our results show that tactile expectancy can modulate posterior alpha activity in blind (but not sighted) individuals through the engagement of occipital regions, suggesting that in early blindness, alpha oscillations maintain their proposed role in visual anticipation but subserve tactile processing. Our findings bring a new understanding of the role that alpha oscillatory activity plays in blindness, contrasting with the view that alpha activity is task unspecific in blind populations.