Perception of phosphenes and flashed alphabetical characters is enhanced by single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation of anterior frontal lobe: The thalamic gate hypothesis

Vahe Amassian, Zoltan Mari, Laura Sagliocco, Nasser Hassan, Peter Maccabee, Joan B. Cracco, Roger Q. Cracco, Ivan Bodis-Wollner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Single pulses of transcranial magnetic stimulation (sTMS) restricted locally to the primary cortical areas for somatosensory and visual input, unlike the effects of repetitive stimulation, usually fail to elicit projected sensations. We tested the effect of sTMS over anterior frontal cortex in facilitating phosphenes from preceding sTMS over calcarine cortex, which alone was rarely effective in eliciting phosphenes. The combined sTMS elicited complex phosphenes, which changed with the site of frontal sTMS and the interstimulus interval. Our results show that sTMS over anterior frontal cortex also improved reporting of weakly illuminated, flashed four-letter stimuli, which permitted its statistical validation. We propose that the present demonstration of frontal cortical facilitation of visual awareness, when combined with the previous finding of projected paresthesias and sense of movement (Amassian et al, 1991 Brain 114 2505-2520), provide evidence of a general frontal opening effect on a thalamic gate. Opening this gate facilitates entry of information from primary cortical receiving areas to thalamus. Thereby, the reciprocal thalamocortical interrelations that subserve conscious awareness of sensory stimuli could be fostered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)375-388
Number of pages14
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychology(all)
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology

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