The functional significance of EEG microstates--Associations with modalities of thinking

Neuroimage. 2016 Jan 15:125:643-656. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.08.023. Epub 2015 Aug 15.


The momentary, global functional state of the brain is reflected by its electric field configuration. Cluster analytical approaches consistently extracted four head-surface brain electric field configurations that optimally explain the variance of their changes across time in spontaneous EEG recordings. These four configurations are referred to as EEG microstate classes A, B, C, and D and have been associated with verbal/phonological, visual, subjective interoceptive-autonomic processing, and attention reorientation, respectively. The present study tested these associations via an intra-individual and inter-individual analysis approach. The intra-individual approach tested the effect of task-induced increased modality-specific processing on EEG microstate parameters. The inter-individual approach tested the effect of personal modality-specific parameters on EEG microstate parameters. We obtained multichannel EEG from 61 healthy, right-handed, male students during four eyes-closed conditions: object-visualization, spatial-visualization, verbalization (6 runs each), and resting (7 runs). After each run, we assessed participants' degrees of object-visual, spatial-visual, and verbal thinking using subjective reports. Before and after the recording, we assessed modality-specific cognitive abilities and styles using nine cognitive tests and two questionnaires. The EEG of all participants, conditions, and runs was clustered into four classes of EEG microstates (A, B, C, and D). RMANOVAs, ANOVAs and post-hoc paired t-tests compared microstate parameters between conditions. TANOVAs compared microstate class topographies between conditions. Differences were localized using eLORETA. Pearson correlations assessed interrelationships between personal modality-specific parameters and EEG microstate parameters during no-task resting. As hypothesized, verbal as opposed to visual conditions consistently affected the duration, occurrence, and coverage of microstate classes A and B. Contrary to associations suggested by previous reports, parameters were increased for class A during visualization, and class B during verbalization. In line with previous reports, microstate D parameters were increased during no-task resting compared to the three internal, goal-directed tasks. Topographic differences between conditions included particular sub-regions of components of the metabolic default mode network. Modality-specific personal parameters did not consistently correlate with microstate parameters except verbal cognitive style which correlated negatively with microstate class A duration and positively with class C occurrence. This is the first study that aimed to induce EEG microstate class parameter changes based on their hypothesized functional significance. Beyond the associations of microstate classes A and B with visual and verbal processing, respectively, our results suggest that a finely-tuned interplay between all four EEG microstate classes is necessary for the continuous formation of visual and verbal thoughts. Our results point to the possibility that the EEG microstate classes may represent the head-surface measured activity of intra-cortical sources primarily exhibiting inhibitory functions. However, additional studies are needed to verify and elaborate on this hypothesis.

Keywords: Cognitive style; Object; Spatial; Verbal; Visual; eLORETA.

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Electroencephalography*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Thinking / physiology*
  • Young Adult