Brain Activity Fluctuations Propagate as Waves Traversing the Cortical Hierarchy

Yameng Gu, Lucas E. Sainburg, Sizhe Kuang, Feng Han, Jack W. Williams, Yikang Liu, Nanyin Zhang, Xiang Zhang, David A. Leopold, Xiao Liu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Citations (SciVal)


The brain exhibits highly organized patterns of spontaneous activity as measured by resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) fluctuations that are being widely used to assess the brain's functional connectivity. Some evidence suggests that spatiotemporally coherent waves are a core feature of spontaneous activity that shapes functional connectivity, although this has been difficult to establish using fMRI given the temporal constraints of the hemodynamic signal. Here, we investigated the structure of spontaneous waves in human fMRI and monkey electrocorticography. In both species, we found clear, repeatable, and directionally constrained activity waves coursed along a spatial axis approximately representing cortical hierarchical organization. These cortical propagations were closely associated with activity changes in distinct subcortical structures, particularly those related to arousal regulation, and modulated across different states of vigilance. The findings demonstrate a neural origin of spatiotemporal fMRI wave propagation at rest and link it to the principal gradient of resting-state fMRI connectivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3986-4005
Number of pages20
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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