Distinct features of auditory steady-state responses as compared to transient event-related potentials

PLoS One. 2013 Jul 9;8(7):e69164. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0069164. Print 2013.


Transient event-related potentials (ERPs) and steady-state responses (SSRs) have been popularly employed to investigate the function of the human brain, but their relationship still remains a matter of debate. Some researchers believed that SSRs could be explained by the linear summation of successive transient ERPs (superposition hypothesis), while others believed that SSRs were the result of the entrainment of a neural rhythm driven by the periodic repetition of a sensory stimulus (oscillatory entrainment hypothesis). In the present study, taking auditory modality as an example, we aimed to clarify the distinct features of SSRs, evoked by the 40-Hz and 60-Hz periodic auditory stimulation, as compared to transient ERPs, evoked by a single click. We observed that (1) SSRs were mainly generated by phase synchronization, while late latency responses (LLRs) in transient ERPs were mainly generated by power enhancement; (2) scalp topographies of LLRs in transient ERPs were markedly different from those of SSRs; (3) the powers of both 40-Hz and 60-Hz SSRs were significantly correlated, while they were not significantly correlated with the N1 power in transient ERPs; (4) whereas SSRs were dominantly modulated by stimulus intensity, middle latency responses (MLRs) were not significantly modulated by both stimulus intensity and subjective loudness judgment, and LLRs were significantly modulated by subjective loudness judgment even within the same stimulus intensity. All these findings indicated that high-frequency SSRs were different from both MLRs and LLRs in transient ERPs, thus supporting the possibility of oscillatory entrainment hypothesis to the generation of SSRs. Therefore, SSRs could be used to explore distinct neural responses as compared to transient ERPs, and help us reveal novel and reliable neural mechanisms of the human brain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Electroencephalography
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology*
  • Evoked Potentials, Auditory / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Young Adult

Grant support

LH was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (31200856), Natural Science Foundation Project of CQ CSTC, and Special Financial Grant from the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (2012T50755). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.