NeuroImage (Jul 2023)

Relative contributions of different neural sources to the EEG

  • Brandon J. Thio,
  • Warren M. Grill

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 275
p. 120179


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Dogma dictates that the EEG signal is generated by postsynaptic currents (PSCs) because there are an enormous number of synapses in the brain, and PSCs have relatively long durations. However, PSCs are not the only potential source of electric fields in the brain. Action potentials, afterpolarizations, and presynaptic activity can also generate electric fields. Experimentally it is exceedingly difficult to delineate the contributions of different sources because they are casually linked. However, using computational modeling, we can interrogate the relative contributions of different neural elements to the EEG. We used a library of neuron models with morphologically realistic axonal arbors to quantify the relative contributions of PSCs, action potentials, and presynaptic activity to the EEG signal. Consistent with prior assertions, PSCs were the largest contributor to the EEG, but action potentials and afterpolarizations can also make appreciable contributions. For a population of neurons generating simultaneous PSCs and action potentials, we found that the action potentials accounted for up to 20% of the source strength while PSCs accounted for the other 80% and presynaptic activity negligibly contributed. Additionally, L5 PCs generated the largest PSC and action potential signals indicating that they the dominant EEG signal generator. Further, action potentials and afterpolarizations were sufficient to generate physiological oscillations, indicating that they are valid source contributors to the EEG. The EEG emerges from a combination of multiple different source, and, while PSCs are the largest contributor, other sources are non-negligible and should be included in modeling, analysis and interpretation of the EEG.