Phasic increases in cortical beta activity are associated with alterations in sensory processing in the human
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Oscillatory activity in the beta (β)-frequency band (13–35 Hz) can be recorded over the sensorimotor cortex in humans. It is coherent with electromyographic activity (EMG) during tonic contraction, but whether the cortical β-oscillations are primarily motor or sensorimotor in function remains unclear. We tested the hypothesis that cortical β-activity is associated with an up-regulation of sensory inputs that may be relevant to the organization of the motor response. We recorded cortical somatosensory potentials (SEPs) elicited by electrical stimuli to the median nerve at the wrist triggered by increases of electroencephalographic (EEG) β-activity in the contralateral fronto-central EEG and compared these to SEPs presented at random intervals. The involvement of motor cortex in the triggering EEG activity was confirmed by a simultaneous elevation of cortico-spinal synchrony in the β-band. The negative cortical evoked potential peaking at 20 ms and the positive evoked potential peaking at 30 ms after median nerve shocks were increased in size when elicited after phasic increases in β-activity. The functional coupling of sensory and motor cortices in the β-band was confirmed in recordings of electrocorticographic activity in two patients with chronic pain syndromes, suggesting a means by which β-activity may simultaneously influence cortical sensory processing, motor output and promote sensory-motor interaction.