Perceptual echoes as travelling waves may arise from two discrete neuronal sources

Alexander Zhigalov, Ole Jensen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Growing evidence suggests that travelling waves are functionally relevant for cognitive operations in the brain. Several electroencephalography (EEG) studies report on a perceptual alpha-echo, representing the brain response to a random visual flicker, propagating as a travelling wave across the cortical surface. In this study, we ask if the propagating activity of the alpha-echo is best explained by a set of discrete sources mixing at the sensor level rather than a cortical travelling wave. To this end, we presented participants with gratings modulated by random noise and simultaneously acquired the ongoing MEG. The perceptual alpha-echo was estimated using the temporal response function linking the visual input to the brain response. At the group level, we observed a spatial decay of the amplitude of the alpha-echo with respect to the sensor where the alpha-echo was the largest. Importantly, the propagation latencies consistently increased with the distance. Interestingly, the propagation of the alpha-echoes was predominantly centro-lateral, while EEG studies reported mainly posterior-frontal propagation. Moreover, the propagation speed of the alpha-echoes derived from the MEG data was around 10 m/s, which is higher compared to the 2 m/s reported in EEG studies. Using source modelling, we found an early component in the primary visual cortex and a phase-lagged late component in the parietal cortex, which may underlie the travelling alpha-echoes at the sensor level. We then simulated the alpha-echoes using realistic EEG and MEG forward models by placing two sources in the parietal and occipital cortices in accordance with our empirical findings. The two-source model could account for both the direction and speed of the observed alpha-echoes in the EEG and MEG data. Our results demonstrate that the propagation of the perceptual echoes observed in EEG and MEG data can be explained by two sources mixing at the scalp level equally well as by a cortical travelling wave. Importantly, these findings should not be directly extrapolated to intracortical recordings, where travelling waves gradually propagate at a sub-millimetre scale.
Original languageEnglish
Article number120047
Number of pages9
Early online date29 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - 15 May 2023

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2023 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Inc. This is an open access article under the CC BY license (


  • Travelling waves
  • Magnetoenecphalography
  • Perceptual echo
  • Source modelling


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