Looking for a precursor of spontaneous Sleep Slow Oscillations in human sleep: The role of the sigma activity, Int J Psychophysiol, 2 (97), 99-107.
Sleep Slow Oscillations (SSOs), paradigmatic EEG markers of cortical bistability (alternation between cellular downstates and upstates), and sleep spindles, paradigmatic EEG markers of thalamic rhythm, are two hallmarks of sleeping brain. Selective thalamic lesions are reportedly associated to reductions of spindle activity and its spectrum ~14 Hz (sigma), and to alterations of SSO features. This apparent, parallel behavior suggests that thalamo-cortical entrainment favors cortical bistability. Here we investigate temporally-causal associations between thalamic sigma activity and shape, topology, and dynamics of SSOs. We recorded sleep EEG and studied whether spatio-temporal variability of SSO amplitude, negative slope (synchronization in downstate falling) and detection rate are driven by cortical-sigma-activity expression (12-18Hz), in 3 consecutive 1s-EEG-epochs preceding each SSO event (Baselines). We analyzed: (i) spatial variability, comparing maps of baseline sigma power and of SSO features, averaged over the first sleep cycle; (ii) event-by-event shape variability, computing for each electrode correlations between baseline sigma power and amplitude/slope of related SSOs; (iii) event-by-event spreading variability, comparing baseline sigma power in electrodes showing an SSO event with the homologous ones, spared by the event. The scalp distribution of baseline sigma power mirrored those of SSO amplitude and slope; event-by-event variability in baseline sigma power was associated with that in SSO amplitude in fronto-central areas; within each SSO event, electrodes involved in cortical bistability presented higher baseline sigma activity than those free of SSO. In conclusion, spatio-temporal variability of thalamocortical entrainment, measured by background sigma activity, is a reliable estimate of the cortical proneness to bistability.