Slow oscillations (≲ 1 Hz), a hallmark of slow-wave sleep and deep anesthesia across species, arise from spatiotemporal patterns of activity whose complexity increases as wakefulness is approached and cognitive functions emerge. The arousal process constitutes an open window to the unknown mechanisms underlying the emergence of such dynamical richness in awake cortical networks. Here, we investigate the changes in network dynamics as anesthesia fades out in the rat visual cortex. Starting from deep anesthesia, slow oscillations gradually increase their frequency, eventually expressing maximum regularity. This stage is followed by the abrupt onset of an infra-slow (~0.2 Hz) alternation between sleep-like oscillations and activated states. A population rate model reproduces this transition driven by an increased excitability that brings it to periodically cross a critical point. Based on our model, dynamical richness emerges as a competition between two metastable attractor states, a conclusion strongly supported by the data.
Keywords: Up states; attractor dynamics; brain states; cerebral cortex; infra-slow oscillations; metastability; micro-arousals; neural network models; sleep-wake transition; synchronization.
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