The most consistent negative cortical component of somatosensory evoked potentials (SEPs), namely the frontal N30, can be considered more multidimensional than a strict item of standard somatosensory investigation, dedicated to tracking the afferent volley from the peripheral sensory nerve potentials to the primary somatosensory cortex. In this review, we revisited its classical sensorimotor implication within the framework of the recent oscillatory model of ongoing electroencephalogram (EEG) rhythms.
Recently, the N30 component was demonstrated to be related to an increase in the power of beta–gamma EEG oscillation and a phase reorganization of the ongoing EEG oscillations (phase locking) in this frequency band. Thanks to high density EEG recordings and the inverse modeling method (swLORETA), it was shown that different overlapping areas of the motor and premotor cortex are specifically involved in generating the N30 in the form of a beta gamma oscillatory phase locking and power increase. This oscillatory approach has allowed a re-investigation of the movement gating behavior of the N30. It was demonstrated that the concomitant execution of finger movements by a stimulated hand impinges the temporal concentration of the ongoing beta/gamma EEG oscillations and abolished the N30 component. It was hypothesized that the involvement of neuronal populations in both the sensorimotor cortex and other related areas were unable to respond to the phasic sensory activation so could not phase-lock their oscillatory signals to the external sensory input during the movement. In this case, the actual movement has primacy over the artificial somatosensory input. The contribution of the ongoing oscillatory activity in the N30 emergence calls for a reappraisal of fundamental and clinical interpretations of the frontal N30 component. An absent or reduced amplitude of the N30 can now be viewed not only as a deficit in the activation of the somatosensory synaptic network in response to sensory input, but also as a global alteration of the beta–gamma ongoing oscillation and/or of the phase-locking mechanism itself.
In addition, it has lately been shown that the N30 amplitude increases during the observation of another person's hand movement. A new paradigm in which the experimenter's hand movement, observed by the participant, triggered the electric stimulation of the subject's hand has been introduced. This has allowed the identification of different cortical areas which are closely related to those involved in the mirror neuron system. This contribution of N30 behavior has paved the way for future investigation of the integration of sensory input into cognitive context.