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Avalanche dynamics of human brain oscillations: relation to critical branching processes and temporal correlations

Poil, S.-S., Van Ooyen, A., and Linkenkaer-Hansen, K. (2008). Human Brain Mapping 29: 770-777. [Full text: PDF]


Human brain oscillations fluctuate erratically in amplitude during rest and exhibit power-law decay of temporal correlations. It has been suggested that this dynamics reflects self-organized activity near a critical state. In this framework, oscillation bursts may be interpreted as neuronal avalanches propagating in a network with a critical branching ratio. However, a direct comparison of the temporal structure of ongoing oscillations with that of activity propagation in a model network with critical connectivity has never been made.

Here, we simulate branching processes and characterize the activity propagation in terms of avalanche life-time distributions and temporal correlations. An equivalent analysis is introduced for characterizing ongoing oscillations in the alpha-frequency band recorded with magnetoencephalography (MEG) during rest.

We found that models with a branching ratio near the critical value of one exhibited power-law scaling in life-time distributions with similar scaling exponents as observed in the MEG data. The models reproduced qualitatively the power-law decay of temporal correlations in the human data; however, the correlations in the model appeared on time scales only up to the longest avalanche, whereas human data indicate persistence of correlations on time scales corresponding to several burst events.

Our results support the idea that neuronal networks generating ongoing alpha oscillations during rest operate near a critical state, but also suggest that factors not included in the simple classical branching process are needed to account for the complex temporal structure of ongoing oscillations during rest on time scales longer than the duration of individual oscillation bursts.

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