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PLoS Comput Biol. 2012;8(9):e1002655. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002655. Epub 2012 Sep 6.

Human motor cortical activity is selectively phase-entrained on underlying rhythms.

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Department of Neurosurgery, Stanford University, Stanford, California, United States of America.


The functional significance of electrical rhythms in the mammalian brain remains uncertain. In the motor cortex, the 12-20 Hz beta rhythm is known to transiently decrease in amplitude during movement, and to be altered in many motor diseases. Here we show that the activity of neuronal populations is phase-coupled with the beta rhythm on rapid timescales, and describe how the strength of this relation changes with movement. To investigate the relationship of the beta rhythm to neuronal dynamics, we measured local cortical activity using arrays of subdural electrocorticographic (ECoG) electrodes in human patients performing simple movement tasks. In addition to rhythmic brain processes, ECoG potentials also reveal a spectrally broadband motif that reflects the aggregate neural population activity beneath each electrode. During movement, the amplitude of this broadband motif follows the dynamics of individual fingers, with somatotopically specific responses for different fingers at different sites on the pre-central gyrus. The 12-20 Hz beta rhythm, in contrast, is widespread as well as spatially coherent within sulcal boundaries and decreases in amplitude across the pre- and post-central gyri in a diffuse manner that is not finger-specific. We find that the amplitude of this broadband motif is entrained on the phase of the beta rhythm, as well as rhythms at other frequencies, in peri-central cortex during fixation. During finger movement, the beta phase-entrainment is diminished or eliminated. We suggest that the beta rhythm may be more than a resting rhythm, and that this entrainment may reflect a suppressive mechanism for actively gating motor function.

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