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Transduction of the Geomagnetic Field as Evidenced from Alpha-band Activity in the Human Brain

By Connie X Wang, Isaac A Hilburn, Daw-An Wu, Yuki Mizuhara, Christopher P Cousté, Jacob N. H. Abrahams, Sam E Bernstein, Ayumu Matani, Shinsuke Shimojo, Joseph L Kirschvink

Posted 20 Oct 2018
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/448449 (published DOI: 10.1523/eneuro.0483-18.2019)

Magnetoreception, the perception of the geomagnetic field, is a sensory modality well-established across all major groups of vertebrates and some invertebrates, but its presence in humans has been tested rarely, yielding inconclusive results. We report here a strong, specific human brain response to ecologically-relevant rotations of Earth-strength magnetic fields. Following geomagnetic stimulation, a drop in amplitude of EEG alpha oscillations (8-13 Hz) occurred in a repeatable manner. Termed alpha event-related desynchronization (alpha-ERD), such a response is associated with sensory and cognitive processing of external stimuli. Biophysical tests showed that the neural response was sensitive to the dynamic components and axial alignment of the field but also to the static components and polarity of the field. This pattern of results implicates ferromagnetism as the biophysical basis for the sensory transduction and provides a basis to start the behavioral exploration of human magnetoreception.

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