It is a commonly held view that information flow between widely separated regions of the cerebral cortex is a necessary component in the generation of wakefulness (also termed “connected” consciousness). This study therefore hypothesized that loss of wakefulness caused by propofol anesthesia should be associated with loss of information flow, as estimated by the effective connectivity in the scalp electroencephalogram (EEG) signal.

Effective connectivity during anesthesia was quantified by applying bivariate Granger to multichannel EEG data recorded from 16 adult subjects undergoing a slow induction of, and emergence from, anesthesia with intravenous propofol. During wakefulness they were conducting various auditory and motor tasks. Functional connectivity using EEG coherence was also estimated.


There was an abrupt, substantial, and global decrease in effective connectivity around the point of loss of responsiveness. Recovery of behavioral responsiveness was associated with a comparable recovery in information flow pattern (expressed as normalized values). The median (interquartile range) change was greatest in the delta frequency band: decreasing from 0.15 (0.21) 2 min before loss of behavioral response, to 0.06 (0.04) 2 min after loss of behavioral response (P < 0.001). Regional decreases in information flow were maximal in a posteromedial direction from lateral frontal and prefrontal regions (0.82 [0.24] 2 min before loss of responsiveness, decreasing to 0.17 [0.05] 2 min after), and least for information flow from posterior channels. The widespread decrease in bivariate Granger causality reflects loss of cortical coordination. The relationship between functional connectivity (coherence) and effective connectivity (Granger causality) was inconsistent.


Propofol-induced unresponsiveness is marked by a global decrease in information flow, greatest from the lateral frontal and prefrontal brain regions in a posterior and medial direction. Loss of information flow may be a useful measure of connected consciousness.

What We Already Know about This Topic
  • Information flow between brain regions is commonly hypothesized as a necessary component in the generation of wakefulness
  • The issue of how loss of consciousness alters this information flow is incompletely understood
  • Granger causality analysis of multichannel electroencephalogram recordings may provide a useful approach to study connectivity in the cerebral cortex
What This Article Tells Us That Is New
  • In healthy adult volunteers, propofol anesthesia–induced loss of consciousness was associated with an abrupt, substantial, and global decrease in connectivity
  • These changes are comparably reversed at regain of consciousness
  • These observations suggest that information flow is an important indicator of wakefulness