Neurophysiologic complexity has been shown to decrease during states characterized by a depressed level of consciousness, such as sleep or anesthesia. Conversely, neurophysiologic complexity is increased during exposure to serotonergic psychedelics or subanesthetic doses of dissociative anesthetics. However, the neurochemical substrates underlying changes in neurophysiologic complexity are poorly characterized. Cortical acetylcholine appears to relate to cortical activation and changes in states of consciousness, but the relationship between cortical acetylcholine and complexity has not been formally studied. We addressed this gap by analyzing simultaneous changes in cortical acetylcholine (prefrontal and parietal) and neurophysiologic complexity before, during, and after subanesthetic ketamine (10 mg/kg/h) or 50% nitrous oxide.
Under isoflurane anesthesia, adult Sprague Dawley rats (n = 24, 12 male and 12 female) were implanted with stainless-steel electrodes across the cortex to record monopolar electroencephalogram (0.5–175 Hz; 30 channels) and guide canulae in prefrontal and parietal cortices for local microdialysis quantification of acetylcholine levels. One subgroup of these rats was instrumented with a chronic catheter in jugular vein for ketamine infusion (n = 12, 6 male and 6 female). The electroencephalographic data were analyzed to determine subanesthetic ketamine or nitrous oxide–induced changes in Lempel-Ziv complexity and directed frontoparietal connectivity. Changes in complexity and connectivity were analyzed for correlation with concurrent changes in prefrontal and parietal acetylcholine.
Subanesthetic ketamine produced sustained increases in normalized Lempel-Ziv complexity (0.5–175 Hz; P < .001) and high gamma frontoparietal connectivity (125–175 Hz; P < .001). This was accompanied by progressive increases in prefrontal (104%; P < .001) and parietal (159%; P < .001) acetylcholine levels that peaked after 50 minutes of infusion. Nitrous oxide induction produced a transient increase in complexity (P < .05) and high gamma connectivity (P < .001), which was accompanied by increases (P < .001) in prefrontal (56%) and parietal (43%) acetylcholine levels. In contrast, the final 50 minutes of nitrous oxide administration were characterized by a decrease in prefrontal (38%; P < .001) and parietal (45%; P < .001) acetylcholine levels, reduced complexity (P < .001), and comparatively weaker frontoparietal high gamma connectivity (P < .001). Cortical acetylcholine and complexity were correlated with both subanesthetic ketamine (prefrontal: cluster-weighted marginal correlation [CW r]  = 0.42, P < .001; parietal: CW r = 0.42, P < .001) and nitrous oxide (prefrontal: CW r = 0.46, P < .001; parietal: CW r = 0.56, P < .001) cohorts.
These data bridge changes in cortical acetylcholine with concurrent changes in neurophysiologic complexity, frontoparietal connectivity, and the level of consciousness.
- Question: What is the relationship between neurophysiologic complexity and cortical acetylcholine?
- Findings: Subanesthetic ketamine- and nitrous oxide–induced changes in cortical acetylcholine correlated with concurrent changes in neurophysiologic complexity, connectivity, and behavior.
- Meaning: The relationship between cortical acetylcholine and neurophysiologic complexity prompts further investigation of subcortical cholinergic nuclei in the modulation of cortical neurophysiologic complexity.
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