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Spectral fingerprints of correct vestibular discrimination of the intensity of body accelerations.

Neuroimage. 2020;219:117015. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2020.117015 [published online ahead of print, 2020 Jun 4]

Authors/Editors: Ertl M, Klaus M, Mast FW, Brandt T, Dieterich M.
Publication Date: 2020


Perceptual decision-making is a complex task that requires multiple processing steps performed by spatially distinct brain regions interacting in order to optimize perception and motor response. Most of our knowledge on these processes and interactions were derived from unimodal stimulations of the visual system which identified the lateral intraparietal area and the posterior parietal cortex as critical regions. Unlike the visual system, the vestibular system has no primary cortical areas and it is associated with separate multisensory areas within the temporo-parietal cortex with the parieto-insular vestibular cortex, PIVC, being the core region. The aim of the presented experiment was to investigate the transition from sensation to perception and to reveal the main structures of the cortical vestibular system involved in perceptual decision-making. Therefore, an EEG analysis was performed in 35 healthy subjects during linear whole-body accelerations of different intensities on a motor-driven motion platform (hexapod). We used a discrimination task in order to judge the intensity of the accelerations. Furthermore, we manipulated the expectation of the upcoming stimulus by indicating the probability (25%, 50%, 75%, 100%) of the motion direction. The analysis of the vestibular evoked potentials (VestEPs) showed that the decision-making process leads to a second positive peak (P2b) which was not observed in previous task-free experiments. The comparison of the estimated neural generators of the P2a and P2b components showed significant activity differences in the anterior cingulus, the parahippocampal and the middle temporal gyri. Taking into account the time courses of the P2 components, the physical properties of the stimuli, and the responses given by the subjects we conclude that the P2b likely reflects the transition from the processing of sensory information to perceptual evaluation. Analyzing the decision-uncertainty reported by the subjects, a persistent divergence of the time courses starting at 188 ms after the acceleration was found at electrode Pz. This finding demonstrated that meta-cognition by means of confidence estimation starts in parallel with the decision-making process itself. Further analyses in the time-frequency domain revealed that a correct classification of acceleration intensities correlated with an inter-trial phase clustering at electrode Cz and an inter-site phase clustering of theta oscillations over frontal, central, and parietal cortical areas. The sites where the phase clustering was observed corresponded to core decision-making brain areas known from neuroimaging studies in the visual domain.

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