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Brain activity exhibits significant temporal structure that is not well captured in the power spectrum. Recently, attention has shifted to characterising the properties of intermittencies in rhythmic neural activity (i.e. bursts), yet the mechanisms regulating them are unknown. Here, we present evidence from electrocorticography recordings made from the motor cortex to show that the statistics of bursts, such as duration or amplitude, in beta frequency (14-30Hz) rhythms significantly aid the classification of motor states such as rest, movement preparation, execution, and imagery. These features reflect nonlinearities not detectable in the power spectrum, with states increasing in nonlinearity from movement execution to preparation to rest. Further, we show using a computational model of the cortical microcircuit, constrained to account for burst features, that modulations of laminar specific inhibitory interneurons are responsible for temporal organization of activity. Finally, we show that temporal characteristics of spontaneous activity can be used to infer the balance of cortical integration between incoming sensory information and endogenous activity. Critically, we contribute to the understanding of how transient brain rhythms may underwrite cortical processing, which in turn, could inform novel approaches for brain state classification, and modulation with novel brain-computer interfaces.

Original publication




Journal article


Prog Neurobiol

Publication Date



Neural activity, brain circuits, bursts, cortex, movement control, primary motor cortex, simulation