High-density EEG characterization of brain responses to auditory rhythmic stimuli during wakefulness and NREM sleep

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Auditory rhythmic sensory stimulation modulates brain oscillations by increasing phase-locking to the temporal structure of the stimuli and by increasing the power of specific frequency bands, resulting in Auditory Steady State Responses (ASSR). The ASSR is altered in different diseases of the central nervous system such as schizophrenia. However, in order to use the ASSR as biological markers for disease states, it needs to be understood how different vigilance states and underlying brain activity affect the ASSR. Here, we compared the effects of auditory rhythmic stimuli on EEG brain activity during wake and NREM sleep, investigated the influence of the presence of dominant sleep rhythms on the ASSR, and delineated the topographical distribution of these modulations. Participants (14 healthy males, 20-33 years) completed on the same day a 60 min nap session and two 30 min wakefulness sessions (before and after the nap). During these sessions, amplitude modulated (AM) white noise auditory stimuli at different frequencies were applied. High-density EEG was continuously recorded and time-frequency analyses were performed to assess ASSR during wakefulness and NREM periods. Our analysis revealed that depending on the electrode location, stimulation frequency applied and window/frequencies analysed the ASSR was significantly modulated by sleep pressure (before and after sleep), vigilance state (wake vs. NREM sleep), and the presence of slow wave activity and sleep spindles. Furthermore, AM stimuli increased spindle activity during NREM sleep but not during wakefulness. Thus, (1) electrode location, sleep history, vigilance state and ongoing brain activity needs to be carefully considered when investigating ASSR and (2) auditory rhythmic stimuli during sleep might represent a powerful tool to boost sleep spindles.HighlightsAuditory brain responses are affected by vigilance state.The presence of sleep spindles and slow waves modulates auditory brain responses.The observed effects depend on stimuli type, electrode location, and window analyzed.Auditory stimuli at 14- and 40 Hz can induce sleep spindles during NREM sleep.

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