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Summary: Somatosensory evoked human EEG and magnetoencephalographic (MEG) responses comprise a brief burst of low-amplitude, high-frequency (approximately 600 Hz) spikelike wavelets ("[final sigma]-bursts") superimposed on the primary cortical response (e.g., the N20 to electrical median nerve stimulation). The recent surge of interest in these macroscopic [final sigma]-burst responses is energized by the prospect of monitoring noninvasively, highly synchronized and rapidly repeating population spikes generated in the human thalamic and cortical somatosensory system. Thus, analyses of spike-related [final sigma]-bursts could uniquely complement conventional low-frequency EEG/MEG, reflecting mass excitatory and inhibitory postsynaptic potentials that potentially also incorporate subthreshold activities of undetermined functional relevance. Recent studies using spatiotemporal source analysis of multichannel recordings identified regional burst sources subcortically (near-thalamic) as well as cortically. At the primary somatosensory cortex, [final sigma]-burst generators showed the well-established homuncular somatotopic ordering. Functionally, the 600-Hz burst appears to comprise multiple subcomponents with differential sensitivity to stimulus rate, intensity, sleep-wake cycle, tactile interference, subject age, and certain movement disorders. A plenitude of cellular candidates contributing to burst generation at different levels can already now be envisaged, including cuneothalamic and thalamocortical relay cells, as well as cortical bursting pyramidal cells and fast-spiking inhibitory interneurons. Although cellular burst coding might serve to relay information with high efficiency, concepts to link macroscopic [final sigma]-bursts and cellular substrates call for additional study.

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