Tactile attention tasks enhance activation in somatosensory regions of parietal cortex: A positron emission tomography study

H. Burton, N. S. Abend, A. M.K. MacLeod, R. J. Sinclair, A. Z. Snyder, M. E. Raichle

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176 Scopus citations


We used positron emission tomography to study cortical regions mediating tactile attention. Cues selectively directed subjects to attend to the roughness or duration of contact with embossed gratings that rubbed against a single fingertip with controlled speed and force. The task required discriminating between paired gratings that differed in tactile features of roughness and/or length. For different blocks of trials, cues directed attention to one tactile feature or indicated a divided attention strategy to a change in either feature. All attention conditions unambiguously activated several somatosensory foci in the parietal cortex, including somatotopically appropriate portions of the primary somatosensory cortex in the postcentral gyrus (S1) and the secondary somatosensory region (S2) within parietal opercular regions. There was no evidence for separate processing foci for selective and divided attention strategies, or for selectively attending to roughness versus stimulus duration. We observed a greater magnitude blood flow change in S2 versus S1 during attention tasks, which suggests that S2 might actually influence S1 activity. Despite these differences, modulation of S1 and S2 supports concepts of early selection in tactile attention. There were also examples of non-sensory foci in frontal cortex, anterior cingulate gyrus and bilateral superior parietal regions at the fundus of the postcentral sulcus. Posterior parietal regions observed in this study did not overlap foci seen in studies of visual attention. Thus, the posterior parietal region may be subdivided into modality specific subregions, each of which processes information needed to attend to a specific modality. These non-sensory areas may constitute a network that provides a source of modulating influences on the earlier stage, sensory areas.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)662-674
Number of pages13
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number7
StatePublished - 1999


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