EEG delta oscillations as a correlate of basic homeostatic and motivational processes

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2012 Jan;36(1):677-95. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2011.10.002. Epub 2011 Oct 14.


Functional significance of delta oscillations is not fully understood. One way to approach this question would be from an evolutionary perspective. Delta oscillations dominate the EEG of waking reptiles. In humans, they are prominent only in early developmental stages and during slow-wave sleep. Increase of delta power has been documented in a wide array of developmental disorders and pathological conditions. Considerable evidence on the association between delta waves and autonomic and metabolic processes hints that they may be involved in integration of cerebral activity with homeostatic processes. Much evidence suggests the involvement of delta oscillations in motivation. They increase during hunger, sexual arousal, and in substance users. They also increase during panic attacks and sustained pain. In cognitive domain, they are implicated in attention, salience detection, and subliminal perception. This evidence shows that delta oscillations are associated with evolutionary old basic processes, which in waking adults are overshadowed by more advanced processes associated with higher frequency oscillations. The former processes rise in activity, however, when the latter are dysfunctional.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Delta Rhythm / physiology*
  • Homeostasis / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Motivation / physiology*