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Keywords:

  • coherence;
  • cortex;
  • oscillations;
  • synchronization

Abstract

Synchronized oscillatory activity in the beta frequency band (13–30 Hz) can be detected in the cerebral motor cortex of healthy humans in the form of corticomuscular coherence. Elevated beta activity is associated with impaired processing of new movements and with more efficient postural or tonic contraction. Accordingly, beta activity is suppressed prior to voluntary movements, rebounding thereafter in the face of peripheral afferance. However, it remains to be established whether synchronized activity in the beta band can be up-regulated in a task-appropriate way independently of confounding changes in sensory afferance. Here we show that there is a systematic and prospective increase in beta synchrony prior to an expected postural challenge. This up-regulation of beta synchrony is associated with improved behavioural performance. We instructed nine healthy subjects to perform a reaction-time movement of the index finger in response to an imperative visual cue or to resist a stretch to the finger in the same direction. These events were preceded by congruent and less common incongruent warning cues. Beta synchrony was temporally increased when subjects were warned of an impending stretch and decreased following a warning cue signalling a forthcoming reaction-time task. Finger positions were less successfully maintained in the face of stretches and reaction times were longer when warning cues were incongruent. The results suggest that the beta state is modulated in a task-relevant way with accompanying behavioural consequences.