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Alertness fluctuations when performing a task modulate cortical evoked responses to transcranial magnetic stimulation.

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Noreika, Valdas 
Kamke, Marc R 
Canales-Johnson, Andrés 
Chennu, Srivas 
Bekinschtein, Tristan A 


Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) has been widely used in human cognitive neuroscience to examine the causal role of distinct cortical areas in perceptual, cognitive and motor functions. However, it is widely acknowledged that the effects of focal cortical stimulation can vary substantially between participants and even from trial to trial within individuals. Recent work from resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies has suggested that spontaneous fluctuations in alertness over a testing session can modulate the neural dynamics of cortical processing, even when participants remain awake and responsive to the task at hand. Here we investigated the extent to which spontaneous fluctuations in alertness during wake-to-sleep transition can account for the variability in neurophysiological responses to TMS. We combined single-pulse TMS with neural recording via electroencephalography (EEG) to quantify changes in motor and cortical reactivity with fluctuating levels of alertness defined objectively on the basis of ongoing brain activity. We observed rapid, non-linear changes in TMS-evoked responses with decreasing levels of alertness, even while participants remained responsive in the behavioural task. Specifically, we found that the amplitude of motor evoked potentials peaked during periods of EEG flattening, whereas TMS-evoked potentials increased and remained stable during EEG flattening and the subsequent occurrence of theta ripples that indicate the onset of NREM stage 1 sleep. Our findings suggest a rapid and complex reorganization of active neural networks in response to spontaneous fluctuations of alertness over relatively short periods of behavioural testing during wake-to-sleep transition.



Alertness, Electroencephalography (EEG), Motor evoked potentials (MEP), TMS evoked potentials (TEP), Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)

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European Commission (612681)
Wellcome Trust (unknown)