Instantaneous voltage as an alternative to power- and phase-based interpretation of oscillatory brain activity


For decades, oscillatory brain activity has been characterized primarily by measurements of power and phase. While many studies have linked those measurements to cortical excitability, their relationship to each other and to the physiological underpinnings of excitability is unclear. The recently proposed Function-through-Biased- Oscillations (FBO) hypothesis (Schalk, 2015) addressed these issues by suggesting that the voltage potential at the cortical surface directly reflects the excitability of cortical populations, that this voltage is rhythmically driven away from a low resting potential (associated with depolarized cortical populations) towards positivity (associated with hyperpolarized cortical populations). This view explains how oscillatory power and phase together influence the instantaneous voltage potential that directly regulates cortical excitability. This implies that the alternative measurement of instantaneous voltage of oscillatory activity should better predict cortical excitability compared to either of the more traditional measurements of power or phase. Using electrocorticographic (ECoG) data from 28 human subjects, the results of our study confirm this prediction: compared to oscillatory power and phase, the instantaneous voltage explained 20% and 31% more of the variance in broadband gamma, respectively, and power and phase together did not produce better predictions than the instantaneous voltage. These results synthesize the previously separate power- and phase-based interpretations and associate oscillatory activity directly with a physiological interpretation of cortical excitability. This alternative view has implications for the interpretation of studies of oscillatory activity and for current theories of cortical information transmission.