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The Effects of l-theanine on Alpha-Band Oscillatory Brain Activity During a Visuo-Spatial Attention Task

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Background/Objectives Ingestion of the non-proteinic amino acid l-theanine (γ-glutamylethylamide) has been shown to influence oscillatory brain activity in the alpha band (8–14 Hz) in humans during resting electroencephalographic (EEG) recordings and also during cognitive task performance. We have previously shown that ingestion of a 250-mg dose of l-theanine significantly reduced tonic (background) alpha power during a demanding intersensory (auditory-visual) attentional cueing task. Further, cue-related phasic changes in alpha power, indexing the shorter-term anticipatory biasing of attention between modalities, were stronger on l-theanine compared to placebo. This form of cue-contingent phasic alpha activity is also known to index attentional biasing within visual space. Specifically, when a relevant location is pre-cued, anticipatory alpha power increases contralateral to the location to be ignored. Here we investigate whether the effects of l-theanine on tonic and phasic alpha activity, found previously during intersensory attentional deployment, occur also during a visuospatial task. Subjects/Methods 168-channel EEG data were recorded from thirteen neurologically normal individuals while engaged in a highly demanding visuo-spatial attention task. Participants underwent testing on two separate days, ingesting either a 250-mg colorless and tasteless solution of l-theanine mixed with water, or a water-based solution placebo on each day in counterbalanced order. We compared the alpha-band activity when subjects ingested l-Theanine vs. Placebo. Results We found a significant reduction in tonic alpha for the l-theanine treatment compared to placebo, which was accompanied by a shift in scalp topography, indicative of treatment-related changes in the neural generators of oscillatory alpha activity. However, l-theanine did not measurably affect cue-related anticipatory alpha effects. Conclusions This pattern of results implies that l-theanine plays a more general role in attentional processing, facilitating longer-lasting processes responsible for sustaining attention across the timeframe of a difficult task, rather than affecting specific moment-to-moment phasic deployment processes.

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This work was supported by a grant from the Lipton Institute of Tea. We would also like to acknowledge the support of Dr. Jane Rycroft and Dr. Gail Owen of the Unilever Beverages Global Technology Centre in Colworth House, Sharnbrook, United Kingdom.

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Correspondence to John J. Foxe.

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Gomez-Ramirez, M., Kelly, S.P., Montesi, J.L. et al. The Effects of l-theanine on Alpha-Band Oscillatory Brain Activity During a Visuo-Spatial Attention Task. Brain Topogr 22, 44–51 (2009).

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