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J Neurosci. 2011 Apr 27;31(17):6353-61. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6693-10.2011.

Biophysical mechanisms of multistability in resting-state cortical rhythms.

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Bernstein Focus State Dependencies of Learning and Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, 10115 Berlin, Germany.


The human alpha (8-12 Hz) rhythm is one of the most prominent, robust, and widely studied attributes of ongoing cortical activity. Contrary to the prevalent notion that it simply "waxes and wanes," spontaneous alpha activity bursts erratically between two distinct modes of activity. We now establish a mechanism for this multistable phenomenon in resting-state cortical recordings by characterizing the complex dynamics of a biophysical model of macroscopic corticothalamic activity. This is achieved by studying the predicted activity of cortical and thalamic neuronal populations in this model as a function of its dynamic stability and the role of nonspecific synaptic noise. We hence find that fluctuating noisy inputs into thalamic neurons elicit spontaneous bursts between low- and high-amplitude alpha oscillations when the system is near a particular type of dynamical instability, namely a subcritical Hopf bifurcation. When the postsynaptic potentials associated with these noisy inputs are modulated by cortical feedback, the SD of power within each of these modes scale in proportion to their mean, showing remarkable concordance with empirical data. Our state-dependent corticothalamic model hence exhibits multistability and scale-invariant fluctuations-key features of resting-state cortical activity and indeed, of human perception, cognition, and behavior-thus providing a unified account of these apparently divergent phenomena.

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