Sleep spindles are an electroencephalographic (EEG) hallmark of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and are believed to mediate many sleep-related functions, from memory consolidation to cortical development. Spindles differ in location, frequency, and association with slow waves, but whether this heterogeneity may reflect different physiological processes and potentially serve different functional roles remains unclear. Here we used a unique opportunity to record intracranial depth EEG and single-unit activity in multiple brain regions of neurosurgical patients to better characterize spindle activity in human sleep. We find that spindles occur across multiple neocortical regions, and less frequently also in the parahippocampal gyrus and hippocampus. Most spindles are spatially restricted to specific brain regions. In addition, spindle frequency is topographically organized with a sharp transition around the supplementary motor area between fast (13-15 Hz) centroparietal spindles often occurring with slow-wave up-states, and slow (9-12 Hz) frontal spindles occurring 200 ms later on average. Spindle variability across regions may reflect the underlying thalamocortical projections. We also find that during individual spindles, frequency decreases within and between regions. In addition, deeper NREM sleep is associated with a reduction in spindle occurrence and spindle frequency. Frequency changes between regions, during individual spindles, and across sleep may reflect the same phenomenon, the underlying level of thalamocortical hyperpolarization. Finally, during spindles neuronal firing rates are not consistently modulated, although some neurons exhibit phase-locked discharges. Overall, anatomical considerations can account well for regional spindle characteristics, while variable hyperpolarization levels can explain differences in spindle frequency.
Andrillon T, Nir Y, Staba RJ, Ferrarelli F, Cirelli C, Tononi G, Fried I. Sleep spindles in humans: insights from intracranial EEG and unit recordings. J Neurosci. 2011 Dec 7;31(49):17821-34. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2604-11.2011. PMID: 22159098; PMCID: PMC3270580.