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Oscillatory neuronal activity is implicated in many cognitive functions, and its phase coupling between sensors may reflect networks of communicating neuronal populations. Oscillatory activity is often studied using extracranial recordings and compared between experimental conditions. This is challenging, because there is overlap between sensor-level activity generated by different sources, and this can obscure differential experimental modulations of these sources. Additionally, in extracranial data, sensor-level phase coupling not only reflects communicating populations, but can also be generated by a current dipole, whose sensor-level phase coupling does not reflect source-level interactions. We present a novel method, which is capable of separating and characterizing sources on the basis of their phase coupling patterns as a function of space, frequency and time (trials). Importantly, this method depends on a plausible model of a neurobiological rhythm. We present this model and an accompanying analysis pipeline. Next, we demonstrate our approach, using magnetoencephalographic (MEG) recordings during a cued tactile detection task as a case study. We show that the extracted components have overlapping spatial maps and frequency content, which are difficult to resolve using conventional pairwise measures. Because our decomposition also provides trial loadings, components can be readily contrasted between experimental conditions. Strikingly, we observed heterogeneity in alpha and beta sources with respect to whether their activity was suppressed or enhanced as a function of attention and performance, and this happened both in task relevant and irrelevant regions. This heterogeneity contrasts with the common view that alpha and beta amplitude over sensory areas are always negatively related to attention and performance.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Adult, Algorithms, Brain, Electroencephalography, Female, Humans, Magnetoencephalography, Male, Middle Aged, Models, Neurological, Periodicity, Touch, Young Adult