Brain activity complexity has a nonlinear relation to the level of propofol sedation

Gonzalo Boncompte, Vicente Medel, Luis I. Cortínez, Tomás Ossandón

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background: Brain activity complexity is a promising correlate of states of consciousness. Previous studies have shown higher complexity for awake compared with deep anaesthesia states. However, little attention has been paid to complexity in intermediate states of sedation. Methods: We analysed the Lempel–Ziv complexity of EEG signals from subjects undergoing moderate propofol sedation, from an open access database, and related it to behavioural performance as a continuous marker of the level of sedation and to plasma propofol concentrations. We explored its relation to spectral properties, to propofol susceptibility, and its topographical distribution. Results: Subjects who retained behavioural performance despite propofol sedation showed increased brain activity complexity compared with baseline (M=13.9%, 95% confidence interval=7.5–20.3). This was not the case for subjects who lost behavioural performance. The increase was most prominent in frontal electrodes, and correlated with behavioural performance and propofol susceptibility. This effect was positively correlated with high-frequency activity. However, abolishing specific frequency ranges (e.g. alpha or gamma) did not reduce the propofol-induced increase in Lempel–Ziv complexity. Conclusions: Brain activity complexity can increase in response to propofol, particularly during low-dose sedation. Propofol-mediated Lempel–Ziv complexity increase was independent of frequency-specific spectral power manipulations, and most prominent in frontal areas. Taken together, these results advance our understanding of brain activity complexity and anaesthetics. They do not support models of consciousness that propose a direct relation between brain activity complexity and states of consciousness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)254-263
Number of pages10
JournalBritish Journal of Anaesthesia
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • brain oscillations
  • electroencephalographic complexity
  • monitoring
  • propofol
  • sedation
  • states of consciousness


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