Objective: To evaluate the effectiveness and comparability of PCA-based simplifications of ERP waveforms versus their reference-free Laplacian transformations for separating task- and response-related ERP generator patterns during auditory oddball tasks.
Methods: Nose-referenced ERPs (31 sites total) were recorded from 66 right-handed adults during oddball tasks using syllables or tones. Response mode (left press, right press, silent count) and task was varied within subjects. Spherical spline current source density (CSD) waveforms were computed to sharpen ERP scalp topographies and eliminate volume-conducted contributions. ERP and CSD data were submitted to separate covariance-based, unrestricted temporal PCAs (Varimax) to disentangle temporally and spatially overlapping ERP and CSD components.
Results: Corresponding ERP and CSD factors were unambiguously related to known ERP components. For example, the dipolar organization of a central N1 was evident from factorized anterior sinks and posterior sources encompassing the Sylvian fissure. Factors associated with N2 were characterized by asymmetric frontolateral (tonal: frontotemporal R > L) and parietotemporal (phonetic: parietotemporal L > R) sinks for targets. A single ERP factor summarized parietal P3 activity, along with an anterior negativity. In contrast, two CSD factors peaking at 360 and 560 ms distinguished a parietal P3 source with an anterior sink from a centroparietal P3 source with a sharply localized Fz sink. A smaller parietal but larger left temporal P3 source was found for silent count compared to button press. Left or right press produced opposite, region-specific asymmetries originating from central sites, modulating the N2/P3 complex.
Conclusions: CSD transformation is shown to be a valuable preprocessing step for PCA of ERP data, providing a unique, physiologically meaningful solution to the ubiquitous reference problem. By reducing ERP redundancy and producing sharper, simpler topographies, and without losing or distorting any effects of interest, the CSD-PCA solution replicated and extended previous task- and response-related findings.
Significance: Eliminating ambiguities of the recording reference, the combined CSD-PCA approach systematically bridges between montage-dependent scalp potentials and distinct, anatomically-relevant current generators, and shows promise as a comprehensive, generic strategy for ERP analysis.