Subthalamic nucleus local field potential activity during the Eriksen flanker task reveals a novel role for theta phase during conflict monitoring.
Zavala B., Brittain JS., Jenkinson N., Ashkan K., Foltynie T., Limousin P., Zrinzo L., Green AL., Aziz T., Zaghloul K., Brown P.
The subthalamic nucleus (STN) is thought to play a central role in modulating responses during conflict. Computational models have suggested that the location of the STN in the basal ganglia, as well as its numerous connections to conflict-related cortical structures, allows it to be ideally situated to act as a global inhibitor during conflict. Additionally, recent behavioral experiments have shown that deep brain stimulation to the STN results in impulsivity during high-conflict situations. However, the precise mechanisms that mediate the "hold-your-horses" function of the STN remain unclear. We recorded from deep brain stimulation electrodes implanted bilaterally in the STN of 13 human subjects with Parkinson's disease while they performed a flanker task. The incongruent trials with the shortest reaction times showed no behavioral or electrophysiological differences from congruent trials, suggesting that the distracter stimuli were successfully ignored. In these trials, cue-locked STN theta band activity demonstrated phase alignment across trials and was followed by a periresponse increase in theta power. In contrast, incongruent trials with longer reaction times demonstrated a relative reduction in theta phase alignment followed by higher theta power. Theta phase alignment negatively correlated with subject reaction time, and theta power positively correlated with trial reaction time. Thus, when conflicting stimuli are not properly ignored, disruption of STN theta phase alignment may help operationalize the hold-your-horses role of the nucleus, whereas later increases in the amplitude of theta oscillations may help overcome this function.