Thalamocortical mechanisms for the anteriorization of alpha rhythms during propofol-induced unconsciousness

Sujith Vijayan, Shi Nung Ching, Patrick L. Purdon, Emery N. Brown, Nancy J. Kopell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

108 Scopus citations


As humans are induced into a state of general anesthesia via propofol, the normal alpha rhythm (8 -13 Hz) in the occipital cortex disappears and a frontal alpha rhythm emerges. This spatial shift in alpha activity is called anteriorization. We present a thalamocortical model that suggests mechanisms underlying anteriorization. Our model captures the neural dynamics of anteriorization when we adjust it to reflect two key actions of propofol: its potentiation of GABA and its reduction of the hyperpolarization-activated current Ih. The reduction in Ih abolishes the occipital alpha by silencing a specialized subset of thalamocortical cells, thought to generate occipital alpha at depolarized membrane potentials (> -60 mV). The increase in GABA inhibition imposes an alpha timescale on both the cortical and thalamic portions of the frontal component that are reinforced by reciprocal thalamocortical feedback. Anteriorization can thus be understood as a differential effect of anesthetic drugs on thalamic nuclei with disparate spatial projections, i.e.: (1) they disrupt the normal, depolarized alpha in posterior-projecting thalamic nuclei while (2) they engage a new, hyperpolarized alpha in frontothalamic nuclei. Our model generalizes to other anesthetics that include GABA as a target, since the molecular targets of many such anesthetics alter the model dynamics in a manner similar to that of propofol.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11070-11075
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number27
StatePublished - 2013


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