AUTHORS: Artoni F, Maillard J, Britz J, Seeber M, Lysakowski C, Bréchet L, Tramèr MR, Michel CM

Neuroimage, 256(2022): 119156, March 2022


Evidence suggests that the stream of consciousness is parsed into transient brain states manifesting themselves as discrete spatiotemporal patterns of global neuronal activity. Electroencephalographical (EEG) microstates are proposed as the neurophysiological correlates of these transiently stable brain states that last for fractions of seconds. To further understand the link between EEG microstate dynamics and consciousness, we continuously recorded high-density EEG in 23 surgical patients from their awake state to unconsciousness, induced by step-wise increasing concentrations of the intravenous anesthetic propofol. Besides the conventional parameters of microstate dynamics, we introduce a new implementation of a method to estimate the complexity of microstate sequences. The brain activity under the surgical anesthesia showed a decreased sequence complexity of the stereotypical microstates, which became sparser and longer-lasting. However, we observed an initial increase in microstates’ temporal dynamics and complexity with increasing depth of sedation leading to a distinctive “U-shape” that may be linked to the paradoxical excitation induced by moderate levels of propofol. Our results support the idea that the brain is in a metastable state under normal conditions, balancing between order and chaos in order to flexibly switch from one state to another. The temporal dynamics of EEG microstates indicate changes of this critical balance between stability and transition that lead to altered states of consciousness.

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