Nitrous oxide produces non–γ-aminobutyric acid sedation and psychometric impairment and can be used as scientific model for understanding mechanisms of progressive cognitive disturbances. Temporal complexity of the electroencephalogram may be a sensitive indicator of these effects. This study measured psychometric performance and the temporal complexity of the electroencephalogram in participants breathing low-dose nitrous oxide.
In random order, 20, 30, and 40% end-tidal nitrous oxide was administered to 12 participants while recording 32-channel electroencephalogram and psychometric function. A novel metric quantifying the spatial distribution of temporal electroencephalogram complexity, comprised of (1) absolute cross-correlation calculated between consecutive 0.25-s time samples; 2) binarizing these cross-correlation matrices using the median of all channels as threshold; (3) using quantitative recurrence analysis, the complexity in temporal changes calculated by the Shannon entropy of the probability distribution of the diagonal line lengths; and (4) overall spatial extent and intensity of brain complexity, was quantified by calculating median temporal complexity of channels whose complexities were above 1 at baseline. This region approximately overlay the brain’s default mode network, so this summary statistic was termed “default-mode-network complexity.”
Nitrous oxide concentration correlated with psychometric impairment (r = 0.50, P < 0.001). Baseline regional electroencephalogram complexity at midline was greater than in lateral temporal channels (1.33 ± 0.14 bits vs. 0.81 ± 0.12 bits, P < 0.001). A dose of 40% N2O decreased midline (mean difference [95% CI], 0.20 bits [0.09 to 0.31], P = 0.002) and prefrontal electroencephalogram complexity (mean difference [95% CI], 0.17 bits [0.08 to 0.27], P = 0.002). The lateral temporal region did not change significantly (mean difference [95% CI], 0.14 bits [−0.03 to 0.30], P = 0.100). Default-mode-network complexity correlated with N2O concentration (r = −0.55, P < 0.001). A default-mode-network complexity mixed-effects model correlated with psychometric impairment (r2 = 0.67; receiver operating characteristic area [95% CI], 0.72 [0.59 to 0.85], P < 0.001).
Temporal complexity decreased most markedly in medial cortical regions during low-dose nitrous oxide exposures, and this change tracked psychometric impairment.
- Low-dose nitrous oxide is known to increase reaction time and error rate in psychometric tests, but no electrophysiologic measurement has been capable of measuring this effect
- A quantitative electroencephalogram analysis can identify associations between treatment with low-dose nitrous oxide and performance on psychometric tests
- Temporal complexity decreases in the medial cortical regions during nitrous oxide administration and is correlated with psychometric performance