Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Nov 04, 2019
The generation and propagation of the human alpha rhythm.
The alpha rhythm is the longest-studied brain oscillation and has been theorized to play a key role in cognition. Still, its physiology is poorly understood. In this study, we used microelectrodes and macroelectrodes in surgical epilepsy patients to measure the intracortical and thalamic generators of the alpha rhythm during quiet wakefulness. We first found that alpha in both visual and somatosensory cortex propagates from higher-order to lower-order areas. In posterior cortex, alpha propagates from higher-order anterosuperior areas toward the occipital pole, whereas alpha in somatosensory cortex propagates from associative regions toward primary cortex. Several analyses suggest that this cortical alpha leads pulvinar alpha, complicating prevailing theories of a thalamic pacemaker. Finally, alpha is dominated by currents and firing in supragranular cortical layers. Together, these results suggest that the alpha rhythm likely reflects short-range supragranular feedback, which propagates from higher- to lower-order cortex and cortex to thalamus. These physiological insights suggest how alpha could mediate feedback throughout the thalamocortical system.