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  Temporal signatures of criticality in human cortical excitability as probed by early somatosensory responses

Stephani, T., Waterstraat, G., Haufe, S., Curio, G., Villringer, A., & Nikulin, V. V. (2020). Temporal signatures of criticality in human cortical excitability as probed by early somatosensory responses. The Journal of Neuroscience, 40(34), 6572-6583. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0241-20.2020.

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Stephani, Tilman1, 2, Author           
Waterstraat, Gunnar3, Author
Haufe, Stefan4, Author
Curio, Gabriel3, 5, Author
Villringer, Arno1, 6, 7, Author           
Nikulin, Vadim V.1, 5, 8, Author           
1Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society, ou_634549              
2International Max Planck Research School on Neuroscience of Communication: Function, Structure, and Plasticity, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society, Leipzig, DE, ou_2616696              
3Neurophysics Group, Department of Neurology, Charité University Medicine Berlin, Germany, ou_persistent22              
4Berlin Center for Advanced Neuroimaging (BCAN), Charité University Medicine Berlin, Germany, ou_persistent22              
5Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience, Berlin, Germany, ou_persistent22              
6Berlin School of Mind and Brain, Humboldt University Berlin, Germany, ou_persistent22              
7Clinic for Cognitive Neurology, University of Leipzig, Germany, ou_persistent22              
8Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia, ou_persistent22              


Free keywords: EEG; Complexity; Criticality; Excitability; Oscillations; Somatosensory
 Abstract: Brain responses vary considerably from moment to moment, even to identical sensory stimuli. This has been attributed to changes in instantaneous neuronal states determining the system’s excitability. Yet the spatio-temporal organization of these dynamics remains poorly understood. Here we test whether variability in stimulus-evoked activity can be interpreted within the framework of criticality, which postulates dynamics of neural systems to be tuned towards the phase transition between stability and instability as is reflected in scale-free fluctuations in spontaneous neural activity. Using a novel non-invasive approach in 33 male participants, we tracked instantaneous cortical excitability by inferring the magnitude of excitatory post-synaptic currents from the N20 component of the somatosensory evoked potential. Fluctuations of cortical excitability demonstrated long-range temporal dependencies decaying according to a power law across trials – a hallmark of systems at critical states. As these dynamics covaried with changes in pre-stimulus oscillatory activity in the alpha band (8–13 Hz), we establish a mechanistic link between ongoing and evoked activity through cortical excitability and argue that the co-emergence of common temporal power laws may indeed originate from neural networks poised close to a critical state. In contrast, no signatures of criticality were found in subcortical or peripheral nerve activity. Thus, criticality may represent a parsimonious organizing principle of variability in stimulus-related brain processes on a cortical level, possibly reflecting a delicate equilibrium between robustness and flexibility of neural responses to external stimuli.


Language(s): eng - English
 Dates: 2020-05-052020-01-282020-06-192020-07-212020-08-19
 Publication Status: Published in print
 Pages: -
 Publishing info: -
 Table of Contents: -
 Rev. Type: -
 Identifiers: DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0241-20.2020
Other: epub 2020
PMID: 32719161
PMC: PMC7486660
 Degree: -



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Title: The Journal of Neuroscience
  Other : J. Neurosci.
Source Genre: Journal
Publ. Info: Baltimore, MD : The Society
Pages: - Volume / Issue: 40 (34) Sequence Number: - Start / End Page: 6572 - 6583 Identifier: ISSN: 0270-6474
CoNE: https://pure.mpg.de/cone/journals/resource/954925502187