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Open Access Publications from the University of California

High-voltage, diffuse delta rhythms coincide with wakeful consciousness and complexity in Angelman syndrome.

  • Author(s): Frohlich, Joel
  • Bird, Lynne M
  • Dell'Italia, John
  • Johnson, Micah A
  • Hipp, Joerg F
  • Monti, Martin M
  • et al.

Abundant evidence from slow wave sleep, anesthesia, coma, and epileptic seizures links high-voltage, slow electroencephalogram (EEG) activity to loss of consciousness. This well-established correlation is challenged by the observation that children with Angelman syndrome (AS), while fully awake and displaying volitional behavior, display a hypersynchronous delta (1-4 Hz) frequency EEG phenotype typical of unconsciousness. Because the trough of the delta oscillation is associated with down-states in which cortical neurons are silenced, the presence of volitional behavior and wakefulness in AS amidst diffuse delta rhythms presents a paradox. Moreover, high-voltage, slow EEG activity is generally assumed to lack complexity, yet many theories view functional brain complexity as necessary for consciousness. Here, we use abnormal cortical dynamics in AS to assess whether EEG complexity may scale with the relative level of consciousness despite a background of hypersynchronous delta activity. As characterized by multiscale metrics, EEGs from 35 children with AS feature significantly greater complexity during wakefulness compared with sleep, even when comparing the most pathological segments of wakeful EEG to the segments of sleep EEG least likely to contain conscious mentation and when factoring out delta power differences across states. These findings (i) warn against reverse inferring an absence of consciousness solely on the basis of high-amplitude EEG delta oscillations, (ii) corroborate rare observations of preserved consciousness under hypersynchronization in other conditions, (iii) identify biomarkers of consciousness that have been validated under conditions of abnormal cortical dynamics, and (iv) lend credence to theories linking consciousness with complexity.

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