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Title: Functional significance of human sensory ERPs : insights from modulation by preceding events
Author: Wang, Anli
ISNI:       0000 0004 2709 3868
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2010
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The electroencephalogram (EEG) reflects summated, slow post-synaptic potentials of cortical neurons. Sensory, motor or cognitive events (such as a fast-rising sensory stimulus, a brisk self-paced movement or a stimulus-triggered cognitive task) can elicit transient changes in the ongoing human EEG, called event-related potentials (ERPs). ERPs are widely used in clinical practice, and believed to reflect the activity of the sensory system activated by the stimulus (for example, laser-evoked potentials are used to substantiate the neuropathic nature of clinical pain conditions). When ERPs are elicited by pairs or trains of stimuli delivered at short inter-stimulus intervals (ISIs), the magnitude of the ERP elicited by the repeated stimuli is markedly reduced, a phenomenon known as response decrement. While the interval between two consecutive stimuli becomes longer, the reduced response is recovered. Thus, this phenomenon has been traditionally interpreted in terms of neural refractoriness of generators of ERPs ("neural refractoriness hypothesis"). This thesis, however, challenges this neural refractoriness hypothesis by describing the results of manipulating the preceding events of the eliciting stimulus. The first study examined the effect of variable and short ISIs on sensory ERPs, delivering trains of auditory and electrical stimuli with random ISIs ranging from 100 to 1000ms. In the second study, pairs of laser stimuli were presented in two comparable conditions. In the constant condition, the ISI was identical across trials in each block, while in the variable condition, the ISI was variable across trials. By directly comparing ERPs elicited by laser stimulation, this study aimed to explore whether lack of saliency in the eliciting stimulus could explain the response decrement during stimulus repetition. Finally, the third study tested the hypothesis that the reduced eliciting ERPs would recover if saliency were introduced by changing the modality of the preceding event. Thus, trains of three stimuli (S1-S2-S3) with 1s ISI were presented; S2 was either same or different in modality as S1 and S3 in each block. Results from these three experiments demonstrate that this "refractoriness hypothesis" does not hold, and suggest that the magnitude of ERPs is only partly related to the magnitude of the incoming sensory input, and instead largely reflects neural activities triggered by salient events in the sensory environment. These results are important for the correct interpretation of ERPs in both physiological and clinical studies.
Supervisor: Iannetti, Giandomenico Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Cognitive Neuroscience ; Physiology ; electroencephalogram (EEG) ; nociceptive system ; sensory event-related potentials (ERPs) ; functional significance