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Special Communication
August 2015

Neural Oscillations and Synchrony in Brain Dysfunction and Neuropsychiatric Disorders: It’s About Time

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco
  • 2Department of Biomedical Sciences, University of California, San Francisco
  • 3Mental Health Service, San Francisco Veterans Affairs Health Care System, San Francisco, California
  • 4Department of Neuroscience, University of California, San Francisco
JAMA Psychiatry. 2015;72(8):840-844. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2015.0483

Neural oscillations are rhythmic fluctuations over time in the activity or excitability of single neurons, local neuronal populations or “assemblies,” and/or multiple regionally distributed neuronal assemblies. Synchronized oscillations among large numbers of neurons are evident in electrocorticographic, electroencephalographic, magnetoencephalographic, and local field potential recordings and are generally understood to depend on inhibition that paces assemblies of excitatory neurons to produce alternating temporal windows of reduced and increased excitability. Synchronization of neural oscillations is supported by the extensive networks of local and long-range feedforward and feedback bidirectional connections between neurons. Here, we review some of the major methods and measures used to characterize neural oscillations, with a focus on gamma oscillations. Distinctions are drawn between stimulus-independent oscillations recorded during resting states or intervals between task events, stimulus-induced oscillations that are time locked but not phase locked to stimuli, and stimulus-evoked oscillations that are both time and phase locked to stimuli. Synchrony of oscillations between recording sites, and between the amplitudes and phases of oscillations of different frequencies (cross-frequency coupling), is described and illustrated. Molecular mechanisms underlying gamma oscillations are also reviewed. Ultimately, understanding the temporal organization of neuronal network activity, including interactions between neural oscillations, is critical for elucidating brain dysfunction in neuropsychiatric disorders.

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