The K-complex: a 7-decade history

Sleep. 2005 Feb;28(2):255-73. doi: 10.1093/sleep/28.2.255.


The K-complex was first described by Loomis et al 67 years ago in a paper that was one of a series of seminal studies of sleep conducted in Loomis' private laboratory. The study of the K-complex was almost immediately taken up by many notable figures in early electroencephalography research, such as Robert Schwab, Mary Brazier, and W. Gray Walter. More than 200 papers have been published in the years since these early studies, including major reviews in 1956 by Roth et al and in 1985 by Peter Halász. More recently, K-complex study has been taken up by event-related potentials researchers such as Ken Campbell and animal neurophysiologists such as Florin Amzica and Mircea Steriade. The present paper provides a historical and thematically based review of the K-complex literature and attempts to integrate the various theoretical positions and neurophysiologic data. Specifically, K-complexes are discussed in terms of their relationship to other electroencephalographic phenomena, their relationship to autonomic activation, their role in the study of information processing during sleep, and what is understood of their underlying neurophysiology.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology
  • Electroencephalography / history*
  • Electroencephalography / instrumentation*
  • Equipment Design
  • History, 20th Century
  • History, 21st Century
  • Humans
  • Sleep Arousal Disorders / diagnosis
  • Sleep Arousal Disorders / history*
  • Sleep Stages / physiology
  • Time Factors