Neural entrainment is the synchronization of neural activity to the frequency of repetitive external stimuli, which can be observed as an increase in the electroencephalogram (EEG) power spectrum at the driving frequency, -also known as the steady-state response. Although it has been systematically reported that the entrained EEG oscillation persists for approximately three cycles after stimulus offset, the neural mechanisms underpinning it remain unknown. Focusing on alpha oscillations, we adopt the dynamical excitation/inhibition framework, which suggests that phases of entrained EEG signals correspond to alternating excitatory/inhibitory states of the neural circuitry. We hypothesize that the duration of the persistence of entrainment is determined by the specific functional state of the entrained neural network at the time the stimulus ends. Steady-state visually evoked potentials (SSVEP) were elicited in 19 healthy volunteers at the participants’ individual alpha peaks. Visual stimulation consisted of a sinusoidally-varying light terminating at one of four phases: 0, π/2, π, and 3π/2. The persistence duration of the oscillatory activity was analyzed as a function of the terminating phase of the stimulus. Phases of the SSVEP at the stimulus termination were distributed within a constant range of values relative to the phase of the stimulus. Longer persistence durations were obtained when visual stimulation terminated towards the troughs of the alpha oscillations, while shorter persistence durations occurred when stimuli terminated near the peaks. Source localization analysis suggests that the persistence of entrainment reflects the functioning of fronto-occipital neuronal circuits, which might prime the sensory representation of incoming visual stimuli based on predictions about stimulus rhythmicity. Consequently, different states of the network at the end of the stimulation, corresponding to different states of intrinsic neuronal coupling, may determine the time windows over which coding of incoming sensory stimulation is modulated by the preceding oscillatory activity.
- alpha entrainment
- alpha rhythm
- alpha-band phase
- persistence of the entrainment
- steady-state visually evoked potentials