Cochlear activity in silent cue-target intervals shows a theta-rhythmic pattern and is correlated to attentional alpha and theta modulations

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


A long-standing debate concerns where in the processing hierarchy of the central nervous system (CNS) selective attention takes effect. In the auditory system, cochlear processes can be influenced via direct and mediated (by the inferior colliculus) projections from the auditory cortex to the superior olivary complex (SOC). Studies illustrating attentional modulations of cochlear responses have so far been limited to sound-evoked responses. The aim of the present study is to investigate intermodal (audiovisual) selective attention in humans simultaneously at the cortical and cochlear level during a stimulus-free cue-target interval.

We found that cochlear activity in the silent cue-target intervals was modulated by a theta-rhythmic pattern (~ 6 Hz). While this pattern was present independently of attentional focus, cochlear theta activity was clearly enhanced when attending to the upcoming auditory input. On a cortical level, classical posterior alpha and beta power enhancements were found during auditory selective attention. Interestingly, participants with a stronger release of inhibition in auditory brain regions show a stronger attentional modulation of cochlear theta activity.

These results hint at a putative theta-rhythmic sampling of auditory input at the cochlear level. Furthermore, our results point to an interindividual variable engagement of efferent pathways in an attentional context that are linked to processes within and beyond processes in auditory cortical regions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number48
Number of pages13
JournalBMC Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16 Mar 2021

Fields of Science and Technology Classification 2012

  • 501 Psychology


  • Cochlea
  • Auditory periphery
  • Efferent
  • MEG
  • Otoacoustic
  • Alpha
  • Theta
  • Attention
  • Rhythmicity
  • Intermodal

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