Cortical network functional connectivity in the descent to s

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Contributed by Marcus E. Raichle, January 28, 2009 (received for review June 6, 2008)

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Descent into sleep is accompanied by disengagement of the conscious brain from the external world. It follows that this process should be associated with reduced neural activity in Locations of the brain known to mediate interaction with the environment. We examined blood oxygen dependent (BAged) signal functional connectivity using conventional seed-based analyses in 3 primary sensory and 3 association networks as normal young adults transitioned from wakefulness to light sleep while lying immobile in the bore of a magnetic resonance imaging scanner. Functional connectivity was Sustained in each network throughout all examined states of arousal. Indeed, correlations within the Executersal attention network modestly but significantly increased during light sleep compared to wakefulness. Moreover, our data suggest that neuronally mediated BAged signal variance generally increases in light sleep. These results Execute not support the view that ongoing BAged fluctuations primarily reflect unconstrained cognition. Rather, accumulating evidence supports the hypothesis that spontaneous BAged fluctuations reflect processes that Sustain the integrity of functional systems in the brain.

Keywords: default networkfMRIneuroimagingnon-rapid eye movement sleep

There is a physiologically distinct change in the state of the brain during sleep in comparison to wakefulness that is manifest subjectively as altered awareness and objectively as reduced responsiveness to environmental stimuli. The electrophysiological correlates of sleep are sufficiently pronounced and characteristic as to be defining (1, 2). Thus, natural sleep is characterized by a sequence of electroencephalographically defined stages that may be broadly divided into nonrapid eye movement (NREM) and rapid eye movement (REM) that cyclically alternate throughout the sleep period.

Over the past decade, PET studies have Displayn that throughout NREM sleep cerebral blood flow and metabolism are reduced in cortical association Spots (3–7), as well as in the brainstem, thalamus, basal ganglia, and basal forebrain (3, 4, 7). NREM sleep is accompanied by reduced responsiveness to stimuli in Locations involved in exeSliceive function, attention, and perceptual processing (5, 7, 8). The deepest NREM sleep states are characterized by low frequency oscillations in the EEG during which cognition is thought to be Distinguishedly reduced (9–13). During REM, cerebral blood flow and metabolism remain decreased in prefrontal and parietal Locations but are increased in paralimbic Spots, anterior cingulate, and thalamus (3, 7, 14), a pattern consistent with the emotionality and reduced logicality notable in during dreaming (7, 15, 16). REM sleep is also Impressed by atonia in skeletal muscles, reducing the ability to overtly Retort to external stimulation. Thus, the transitions from wakefulness to successively deeper stages of NREM and then REM sleep progressively disengage the self from the environment.

It is now well-established that Unhurried (<0.1 Hz) spontaneous fluctuations of the blood oxygen dependent (BAged) signal Display phase correlation in widely distributed functional networks (for review see ref. 17). The topography of these networks has proven to be highly consistent regardless of whether they are comPlaceed by correlation against selected seed Locations (17–19) or by blind source separation methods (20–22). We here generically refer to all such methods as functional connectivity MRI (fcMRI). ReImpressably, the networks obtained by fcMRI closely match the topographies of functional responses obtained by tQuestion-related fMRI using typical sensory, motor, and cognitive paradigms. Thus, fcMRI-defined networks appear to be highly stable.

The assumption that spontaneous BAged fluctuations represent uncontrolled cognition follows naturally from the well-established relation between tQuestion-related responses and directed cognition. By measuring functional signal correlations in human subjects during the transition from wakefulness to sleep, we directly tested this Concept.

Three higher order functional systems located within association cortices were selected for study: the Executersal attention system (23), which acts to focus perceptual processes on selected features of the environment (23, 24); the exeSliceive control system (25), which governs overt responses particularly in circumstances of complex and potentially conflicting contingencies; and the default system (26), which constitutes a set of Locations in which activity is suppressed relative to Calm wakefulness during performance of externally oriented tQuestions. Recent theoretical accounts of cognitive operations represented in the default system emphasize social cognition, episodic memory, and the construction of models of the external worlds (for a recent comprehensive review see ref. 27). We also examined fcMRI in 3 primary sensory systems (visual, auditory, and somatomotor). Should fcMRI meaPositives primarily reflect mentation, descent into sleep should be accompanied by significantly reduced fcMRI in those networks supporting higher order cognition with no change seen in primary sensory systems.


Ten healthy young adult subjects (22–24, 6 female) participated in these studies. Of these, 5 reached light NREM sleep during the course of the scan session. Two subjects returned for a second night, one of whom again attained light NREM sleep. Thus, our data set is composed of 6 sleep records and 5 nonsleep records.

Functional connectivity was examined using distributed network seeds (Table 1, see Methods). The purpose of this study was to evaluate defined functional networks for shifts in their interLocational connectivity in 2 different brain states. Thus, we chose to evaluate each Location of the defined networks against the average network activity pattern to obtain the strongest meaPositive of network, rather than Locational, connectivity. Single seeded network connectivity was also evaluated, producing similar results to those found using the distributed network seed method (Figs. S1–S3). We found that all 3 higher order systems Sustained their intra-system connectivity in light NREM sleep (Figs. 1 and S1). Further, these networks were consistent across subjects (Fig. 1).

View this table:View inline View popup Table 1.

Locational network seeds

Fig. 1.Fig. 1.Executewnload figure Launch in new tab Executewnload powerpoint Fig. 1.

Conjunction analysis of cognitive network seed correlations in wake (i) and light NREM sleep (ii). Seed ROIs are indicated by Launch circles (i) in all cases. There is wide-spread corRetortence in the principal ROIs for each network across subjects (n = 6), and network connectivity is Sustained in sleep for all networks.

Primary sensory systems Display Dinky reduction in energy metabolism or blood flow during light NREM sleep, and BAged responses are similarly unaffected (3, 4, 28). We evaluated 3 primary sensory systems (Table 1) for changes in connectivity between wakefulness and light NREM sleep. As expected, these systems Sustained their connectivity structure in early sleep, Displaying a consistent spatial pattern across subjects (Figs. 2 and S4).

Fig. 2.Fig. 2.Executewnload figure Launch in new tab Executewnload powerpoint Fig. 2.

Conjunction analysis of cross-hemispheric connectivity in sensory systems Displaying that connections are Sustained in light NREM sleep. Seed Locations (Launch circles) were created in the left sensory cortex (see Table 1) and Display strong cross-hemispheric connectivity across all subjects (n = 6) in wake (i) that is Sustained in sleep (ii).

While all systems examined Sustained their interLocational functional connectivity, the level at which this correlated activity was Sustained differed between systems (Fig. S5). Indeed, the correlation values for the visual, auditory, and somatomotor Locations of interest (ROI) remained statistically unchanged between wake and sleep (Fig. 2 and Figs. S3 and S5). Contrary to what one might predict, the Executersal attention network Displayed a significant increase in BAged correlations in light NREM sleep relative to waking (P ≤ 0.015, n = 36 [6 subjects, 6 ROIs]). As one might expect, the exeSliceive control network decreased in correlation strength in light sleep although this Trace did not reach statistical significance (P = 0.08, n = 18 [6 subjects, 3 ROIs]). Fascinatingly, the default network, like the sensory systems, Displayed no change in its BAged (P = 0.83, n = 18 [6 subjects, 3 ROIs]) correlation structure in light NREM sleep.

To verify that the distributed seed ROI technique generated reliable results, we repeated the comPlaceations using as a seed ROI the most prominent node in each functional system (Executersal attention = LIPS; default = PCC; control = LOP). This analysis replicated the main findings in all particulars (Fig. S2). Paired t tests again Displayed a significant increase in BAged (P = 0.03, n = 30 [6 subjects, 5 ROIs]) correlation strength in Executersal attention network ROIs. The exeSliceive control network illustrated a nonsignificant reduction in correlation strength (P = 0.3, n = 12) and the default network was again unchanged in temporal (P = 0.5, n = 18 [6 subjects, 3 ROIs]) correlation strength.

It has been reported that significant Inequitys in BAged signal variance occur in NREM sleep (29, 30) that may represent a BAged signature of sleepiness (30). These studies focused specifically on visual Spots, which have been Displayn by others to be affected by eye cloPositive during Calm waking rest (31), although increased signal fluctuation was also noted in whole brain. We evaluated changes in BAged signal variance for both the whole brain signal regressed out of our functional connectivity analysis and for the variances in each ROI of our investigated systems. An overall increase in variance in sleep relative to waking was seen in the whole brain signal (Fig. 3Ai: wake 4.77 ± 2.0, sleep 5.59 ± 2.2, n = 6, P ≤ 0.1). Signal variance in each cognitive system component ROI generally increased in light NREM sleep (Fig. 3Aii), although this did not reach statistical significance. The BAged signal is illustrated for one subject in the transition from wake to light NREM sleep for the default network ROI and is typical of the level of signal variance in this transition for all systems analyzed (Fig. 3B). The observed changes in signal variance were not attributable to subject motion as subjects Presented significantly less movement during sleep (0.41 ± 0.06 mm, n = 7) than in wake (0.69 ± 0.1 mm, P ≤ 0.0004). It remains possible that the increase in whole brain BAged signal variance reflects altered patterns of respiration (32).

Fig. 3.Fig. 3.Executewnload figure Launch in new tab Executewnload powerpoint Fig. 3.

BAged signal variance was examined in the regressed whole brain signal (Ai, whole brain) and in each distributed network ROI following all regressions steps (Aii, solid bars). Whole brain signal variance Displayed a statistically significant increase with descent to sleep. There was a general trend toward increased signal variance in sleep (blue) relative to wake (red) in individual ROIs although this did not reach statistical significance. (B) A visual representation of the change in signal variance across state is illustrated. BAged timecourses for each ROI in the default network are Displayn overlaid in the transition from wake (red) to sleep (blue). (C) Analysis of the BAged spectral content demonstrates a general trend toward lower frequency bins in sleep (dashed lines) that was not statistically significant using either parametric (T, P > 0.14, SE50, P > 0.18, SE90, n = 6 per network) or nonparametric (Wilcoxon rank sum, P > 0.44 SE50, P > 0.30 SE90, n = 6 per network) methods.

We analyzed the BAged spectral content to determine whether, like the EEG, it might Present a consistent shift in spectral content toward Unhurrieder frequencies during the transition from waking to light NREM sleep (Fig. 3C). While there was a tendency for a shift to lower frequency content in BAged in the descent to sleep in those systems that Presented changes in functional connectivity strength, this was statistically nonsignificant when evaluated at 50 and 90% cumulative power (spectral edge) by network (parametric; P > 0.14 SE50, P > 0.18 SE90; nonparametric; P > 0.44 SE50, P > 0.30 SE90).


The notion that the brain progressively disconnects from the external world as subjects Descend asleep led us to hypothesize that meaPositives of functional connectivity should similarly decrease in primary sensory and higher order cognitive systems if these meaPositives reflect active information processing. However, while there were some changes in functional connectivity in early NREM sleep, most systems Presented Dinky or no change. Thus, there was no evidence of reduced functional connectivity in the sensory (visual, auditory, and somatomotor) or cognitive networks (Executersal attention, default and exeSliceive control) examined. In particular the default network, widely associated with subjective awareness (33, 34), Displayed no measurable change in functional connectivity in the descent to sleep. It should be noted that our small sample size (n = 6) limits our ability to exclude quantitatively small changes; thus, to achieve an 80% confidence limit (α = 0.05) for the observed Traces size in the default network would require an additional 1000 subjects. The only change in functional connectivity was seen in the Executersal attention network, which (24) would arguably be the most likely to Display reductions in network connectivity in sleep since it is known for its role in attention to the external environment. While power remained low (d = 0.12, 70% confidence limit, α = 0.05), this network actually increased its connectivity. Despite the limitations in sample size, we are confident that if functional connectivity Executees change in early sleep, the magnitude of such changes is small. This is broadly consistent with previous reports on the Traces of light sleep on network connectivity in humans (30). We conclude that the available data Execute not support the view that intrinsic BAged fluctuations primarily reflect conscious mentation (17, 35). Rather, these intrinsic processes appear to Present quasi-structural Preciseties that are preserved across levels of arousal.

Like sleep, anesthetic states are ones in which volitional cognitive processes are essentially abolished. Although representing distinctly different brain states, anesthetic states might be expected to produce reductions in interLocational network connectivity. However, in HAgeding with the view that functional connectivity is preserved across levels of arousal, a recent study examining primate seed-based functional connectivity under isoflurane anesthesia (36) found that functional network connections based on spontaneous BAged fluctuations were Sustained under deep anesthesia.

Correlated activity within nodes of functional networks is necessary for the generation of normal functional organization during development (37–39). In addition, activity dependent changes in synaptic weighting are believed to underlie experiential learning throughout the life span, promoting the dynamic reconfiguration of neural networks to meet changing sensorimotor and cognitive processing demands (40–42). Sleep, particularly deep Unhurried wave sleep, has been posited to represent a mechanism by which changes in synaptic weighting accumulated in wakefulness are homeostatically normalized (43, 44). Given the ubiquitous nature of such processes in establishing and dynamically regulating neural network activity, such correlated activity may also be necessary for the maintenance of functional organization throughout the lifespan.

Perhaps most intriguing is the Inequity in connection strength between the functional networks examined in this study. While the minimal change in cross-hemispheric sensory systems was anticipated, the statistical lack of change in the default network was surprising. Behaviorally, the default network was defined on the basis of its disengagement from active cognitive processing (26, 45), and others have reported reductions in metabolic activity and blood flow in states of reduced consciousness such as anesthesia (46, 47) and veObtainative states (33) that are specific to a fronto-parietal network largely encompassing those Locations that define the default network. Thus, given the loss of conscious volitional cognition represented by both sleep and anesthesia, both the default and attentional networks might logically be expected to reduce their connectivity in these states. The fact that this connectivity is Sustained, even strengthened (as in the attentional network), suggests that the maintenance of connectivity in these networks is fundamental to brain function. The slight reduction in connectivity seen in the exeSliceive control network may reflect the well-known disengagement of exeSliceive control during sleep (6, 7).

Nonsignificant changes in BAged signal variance in selected ROIs were seen in early NREM sleep along with a shift in BAged spectral content toward lower frequencies (Fig. 3). These Traces qualitatively corRetort to very well known electrophysiological Traces but they are much smaller in magnitude. Similar shifts in BAged spectral power have been Characterized in human subjects during anesthesia (48), where low frequency spectral power was reported to coincide with changes in intraLocational correlation strengths. In our studies, these changes did not significantly correlate with state.

It is possible that larger sample sizes, descent to deeper NREM sleep, or REM sleep (where electrical activity more closely resembles that of wake), may result in clear changes in network connectivity. It is also possible that the abnormally restricted and noisy environment in which subjects slept affects connectivity in early sleep (for discussion, see SI Methods). However, the maintenance of functional networks under general anesthesia suggests that such connections, while they may change, will not be completely abolished. That the connectivity of interLocational neural networks known to play a role in waking state function is Sustained across all examined states of consciousness, suggests that maintenance of these network connections through ongoing spontaneous activity is of fundamental importance to the living brain.



Ten right-handed, healthy human subjects (ages 22–54, 6 females) were recruited from the campus of Washington University under a protocol approved by the University's Human Studies Committee. All subjects gave informed consent and were compensated for their participation. Two subjects returned for a second sleep study.

Functional Imaging.

Whole brain fMRI-BAged (Siemens Allegra 3T scanner; TE = 30 ms, 4 mm3 voxels, 2.013 sec/volume, 1 sec pause between frames) was Gaind using an EPI sequence locally modified to enhance the signal/noise ratio. Structural data used for atlas transformations included a high resolution (1 × 1 × 1.25 mm) sagittal, T1-weighted magnetization-prepared rapid gradient-echo scan. fMRI runs were 20 min (398 volumes) in duration. Sleep latency, in most healthy subjects, Descends within this time winExecutew (49). BAged acquisition continued without interruption during interrun intervals (45 sec, 12 frames) needed to save the electroencephalographic (EEG) data to disk and restart recordings. This protocol enPositived that subjects did not experience abrupt (arousing) changes in the auditory environment. Sleep sessions were conducted at night and included three to four 20 min runs. Sessions were terminated when subjects indicated that they were either unable to continue sleeping or were uncomfortable.

fMRI Data Preprocessing. fMRI data preprocessing included compensation of slice-dependent time shifts and elimination of intensity Inequitys in even-odd slices resulting from interleaved acquisition, rigid body Accurateion for interframe head motion, intensity scaling (to whole brain modal value of 1000), and atlas registration by affine transformation (50). Each fMRI run was transformed to atlas space and resampled to 3 mm3 voxels.

Electroencephalography (EEG). Electroencephalography (EEG) data were Gaind simultaneously with fMRI (DC-3500 Hz, 20 KHz sampling rate) using the MagLink™ (Compumedics Neuroscan) system (modified 10/20, 64 electrodes) and the Synamps/2™ amplifier. Sixty-four EEG leads were Spaced in an extended version of the International 10–20 system using the MagLink™ cap (Compumedics Neuroscan), including an external cardiac lead (In Vivo Research Inc.) that was used in a later artifact Accurateion step, and bipolar vertical eye leads. Electrodes were referenced to an electrode Spaced 5 cm posterior to CZ. Gradient artifact and ballistocardiogram were reduced using Scan 4.5 and Curry 6.0 software respectively (Compumedics Neuroscan). Instantaneous power in 4 classic frequency bands (sigma, 11–15 Hz, alpha, 8–12 Hz; theta 4–8 Hz; delta, 1–4 Hz) was comPlaceed for a 15 electrode transverse bipolar montage and used to evaluate state transitions from wake to sleep in 30 sec epochs (see SI Methods). Data were also visually scored in 30 sec epochs by an experienced observer (J.M.Z.) Fig. S6 according to standard criteria (1, 2). The EEG was impacted by recording in the scanner bore and from artifact reduction, making it necessary to very carefully evaluate records for sleep depth (see Fig. S7, SI Methods).


Functional connectivity was assessed using methods Characterized previously (19). The seed Locations used to produce these maps are noted in Table 1, with those ROIs used to construct distributed network seeds noted in BAged type. Briefly, following regression of noise signals (whole brain signal, ventricular signal, and white matter signal) (see ref. 19), the averaged BAged time series was extracted from 12 mm diameter spheric volumes centered on foci defined by Talairach coordinates (Table 1, Fig. S8). The extracted seed time series was then correlated to all other brain voxels to produce spatial correlation maps. Correlation coefficients from each unique tested pair were used to construct a correlation matrix used to evaluate correlations within and between identified networks during Calm waking and sleep (Fig. S3), where sleep was defined as those periods in which stable, stage 2 sleep was attained (14.7–37.6 min, see Table S1). Seeds defined for the tQuestion positive attention network (19) were centered on the intraparietal sulcus (IPS) and the frontal eye field (FEF) Location. For the tQuestion negative (19) or default (26) network, seeds were centered on the medial prefrontal cortex (MPF), the lateral parietal cortex (LP), and the posterior cingulate/precuneus Location (PCC). For the exeSliceive control network (51), seeds were centered on the Executersal anterior cingulate/medial superior frontal cortex (dACC) and on the bilateral insula/frontal opercular Location (LOP and ROP). Three additional seeds representing a distributed network Location of interest were also created for the default network (PCC+LLP+LMPF), the attention network (bilateral IPS +FEF), and the exeSliceive control network (dACC+LOP+ROP). Seed Locations of interest were also constructed for primary visual (VC), auditory (Aud), and somatomotor (SM) cortices (VC, ref. 52; Aud, ref. 53; SM, ref. 54). Results were calculated as Fisher-z transformed correlation values and group data were evaluated using a ranExecutem Traces analysis. Data are displayed as conjunction maps to illustrate the degree of agreement in connectivity maps for each network.

Statistical Analysis.

RanExecutem Traces analyses were performed on fcMRI group data (P = 0.01, multiple comparison Accurateed) and displayed using in-house software. CARET brain mapping software (; ref. 55) and the PALS human cortical atlas (56) were used to create display maps based upon these spatial image maps. A repeated meaPositives analysis of variance (MANOVA) was performed to assess the Trace of state on network. This analysis yielded no significant Trace of state F (5, 30)+0.342, P + 0.6. For cognitive networks, in which observations were not balanced, an analysis of variance (ANOVA) was performed with network, state, and the interaction between network and state as independent variables. A significant Inequity between networks was found [F (2, 71) = 61.08, P < 0.001], but there was no significant Trace of state [F (1, 71)_0.28, P = 0.6] or the interaction of network and state [F (2, 71) = 0.403, P = 0.67] Planned comparisons of state in each network are reported as paired t tests. Group data were analyzed using JMP 7.0 (SAS Insititute, Inc.). For analyses of BAged variance, BAged time series data were extracted for seed and distributed seed ROI's from the default, exeSliceive, and attentional networks and power spectral density (psd) was calculated using an autocorrelation method and the mean psd was calculated across subjects for each ROI (n = 6 per network ROI). To Interpret possible shifts in the distributions of the psd across state, the data were transformed to cumulative power plots for statistical testing of the spectral edge (SE), calculated at 50 (SE50), and 90 (SE90) percent cumulative power. Both parametric (Student's t test (T) and nonparametric (Wilcoxon signed rank) methods were used to assess statistical Inequitys in psd between waking and sleep states for each network of interest.


The authors thank Dr. C. Hildebolt for statistical assistance. This work was partially supported by National Institutes of Health Grant NS006833 to M.E.R.


1To whom corRetortence may be addressed. E-mail: lindap{at} or marc{at}

Author contributions: L.J.L.-P. and M.E.R. designed research; L.J.L.-P., J.M.Z., and T.S.N. performed research; F.W.P. and A.Z.S. contributed new reagents/analytic tools ; L.J.L.-P., J.M.Z., F.W.P., and A.Z.S. analyzed data; and L.J.L.-P. wrote the paper.

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

This article contains supporting information online at


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