Sleep spindles are bursts of rhythmic 10-15 Hz activity, lasting ∼0.5-2 s, that occur during Stage 2 sleep. They are coherent across multiple cortical and thalamic locations in animals, and across scalp EEG sites in humans, suggesting simultaneous generation across the cortical mantle. However, reports of MEG spindles occurring without EEG spindles, and vice versa, are inconsistent with synchronous distributed generation. We objectively determined the frequency of MEG-only, EEG-only, and combined MEG-EEG spindles in high density recordings of natural sleep in humans. About 50% of MEG spindles occur without EEG spindles, but the converse is rare (∼15%). Compared to spindles that occur in MEG only, those that occur in both MEG and EEG have ∼1% more MEG coherence and ∼15% more MEG power, insufficient to account for the ∼55% increase in EEG power. However, these combined spindles involve ∼66% more MEG channels, especially over frontocentral cortex. Furthermore, when both MEG and EEG are involved in a given spindle, the MEG spindle begins ∼150 ms before the EEG spindle and ends ∼250 ms after. Our findings suggest that spindles begin in focal cortical locations which are better recorded with MEG gradiometers than referential EEG due to the biophysics of their propagation. For some spindles, only these regions remain active. For other spindles, these locations may recruit other areas over the next 200 ms, until a critical mass is achieved, including especially frontal cortex, resulting in activation of a diffuse and/or multifocal generator that is best recorded by referential EEG derivations due to their larger leadfields.
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