Parameterizing neural power spectra into periodic and aperiodic components

Nat Neurosci. 2020 Dec;23(12):1655-1665. doi: 10.1038/s41593-020-00744-x. Epub 2020 Nov 23.


Electrophysiological signals exhibit both periodic and aperiodic properties. Periodic oscillations have been linked to numerous physiological, cognitive, behavioral and disease states. Emerging evidence demonstrates that the aperiodic component has putative physiological interpretations and that it dynamically changes with age, task demands and cognitive states. Electrophysiological neural activity is typically analyzed using canonically defined frequency bands, without consideration of the aperiodic (1/f-like) component. We show that standard analytic approaches can conflate periodic parameters (center frequency, power, bandwidth) with aperiodic ones (offset, exponent), compromising physiological interpretations. To overcome these limitations, we introduce an algorithm to parameterize neural power spectra as a combination of an aperiodic component and putative periodic oscillatory peaks. This algorithm requires no a priori specification of frequency bands. We validate this algorithm on simulated data, and demonstrate how it can be used in applications ranging from analyzing age-related changes in working memory to large-scale data exploration and analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology
  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term
  • Middle Aged
  • Periodicity*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Young Adult