The ability of different groups of cortical neurons to engage in causal interactions that are at once differentiated and integrated results in complex dynamic patterns. Complexity is low during periods of unconsciousness (deep sleep, anesthesia, unresponsive wakefulness syndrome) in which the brain tends to generate a stereotypical pattern consisting of alternating active and silent periods of neural activity-slow oscillations- and is high during wakefulness. But how is cortical complexity built up? Is it a continuum? An open question is whether cortical complexity can vary within the same brain state. Here we recorded with 32-channel multielectrode arrays from the cortical surface of the mouse and used both spontaneous dynamics (wave propagation entropy and functional complexity) and a perturbational approach (a variation of the perturbation complexity index) to measure complexity at different anesthesia levels. Variations in anesthesia level within the bistable regime of slow oscillations (0.1-1.5 Hz) resulted in a modulation of the slow oscillation frequency. Both perturbational and spontaneous complexity increased with decreasing anesthesia levels, in correlation with the decrease in coherence of the underlying network. Changes in complexity level are related to, but not dependent on, changes in excitability. We conclude that cortical complexity can vary within a single brain state dominated by slow oscillations, building up to the higher complexity associated with consciousness.
Keywords: Cortical connectivity; Emergent activity; PCI; Slow waves; Up states; Wave propagation.
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