Steady-state visual evoked potentials can be explained by temporal superposition of transient event-related responses

PLoS One. 2011 Jan 18;6(1):e14543. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0014543.


Background: One common criterion for classifying electrophysiological brain responses is based on the distinction between transient (i.e. event-related potentials, ERPs) and steady-state responses (SSRs). The generation of SSRs is usually attributed to the entrainment of a neural rhythm driven by the stimulus train. However, a more parsimonious account suggests that SSRs might result from the linear addition of the transient responses elicited by each stimulus. This study aimed to investigate this possibility.

Methodology/principal findings: We recorded brain potentials elicited by a checkerboard stimulus reversing at different rates. We modeled SSRs by sequentially shifting and linearly adding rate-specific ERPs. Our results show a strong resemblance between recorded and synthetic SSRs, supporting the superposition hypothesis. Furthermore, we did not find evidence of entrainment of a neural oscillation at the stimulation frequency.

Conclusions/significance: This study provides evidence that visual SSRs can be explained as a superposition of transient ERPs. These findings have critical implications in our current understanding of brain oscillations. Contrary to the idea that neural networks can be tuned to a wide range of frequencies, our findings rather suggest that the oscillatory response of a given neural network is constrained within its natural frequency range.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Nerve Net
  • Young Adult