Your eyes give you away: prestimulus changes in pupil diameter correlate with poststimulus task-related EEG dynamics

Pupillary measures have been linked to arousal and attention as well as activity in the brainstem’s locus coeruleus norepinephrine (LC-NE) system. Similarly, there is evidence that evoked EEG responses, such as the P3, might have LC-NE activity as their basis. Since it is not feasible to record electrophysiological data directly from the LC in humans due to its location in the brainstem, an open question has been whether pupillary measures and EEG variability can be linked in a meaningful way to shed light on the nature of the LC-NE role in attention and arousal. We used an auditory oddball task with a data-driven approach to learn task-relevant projections of the EEG, for windows of data spanning the entire trial. We investigated linear and quadratic relationships between the evoked EEG along these projections and both prestimulus (baseline) and poststimulus (evoked dilation) pupil diameter measurements. We found that baseline pupil diameter correlates with early (175–200 ms) and late (350–400 ms) EEG component variability, suggesting a linear relationship between baseline (tonic) LC-NE activity and evoked EEG. We found no relationships between evoked EEG and evoked pupil dilation, which is often associated with evoked (phasic) LC activity. After regressing out reaction time (RT), the correlation between EEG variability and baseline pupil diameter remained, suggesting that such correlation is not explainable by RT variability. We also investigated the relationship between these pupil measures and prestimulus EEG alpha activity, which has been reported as a marker of attentional state, and found a negative linear relationship with evoked pupil dilation. In summary, our results demonstrate significant relationships between prestimulus and poststimulus neural and pupillary measures, and they provide further evidence for tight coupling between attentional state and evoked neural activity and for the role of cortical and subcortical networks underlying the process of target detection.

Received 8/1/2013
Accepted 11 March 2014
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