Objective How and to what extent electrical brain activity is affected in pharmacologically altered states of consciousness, where it is mainly the phenomenological content rather than the level of consciousness that is altered, is not well understood. An example is the moderately psychedelic state caused by low doses of ketamine. Therefore, we investigated whether and how measures of evoked and spontaneous electroencephalographic (EEG) signal diversity are altered by sub-anaesthetic levels of ketamine compared to normal wakefulness, and how these measures relate to subjective assessments of consciousness. Methods High-density electroencephalography (EEG, 62 channels) was used to record spontaneous brain activity and responses evoked by transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in 10 healthy volunteers before and after administration of sub-anaesthetic doses of ketamine in an open-label within-subject design. Evoked signal diversity was assessed using the perturbational complexity index (PCI), calculated from the global EEG responses to local TMS perturbations. Signal diversity of spontaneous EEG, with eyes open and eyes closed, was assessed by Lempel Ziv complexity (LZc), amplitude coalition entropy (ACE), and synchrony coalition entropy (SCE). Results Although no significant difference was found in the index of TMS-evoked complexity (PCI) between the sub-anaesthetic ketamine condition and normal wakefulness, all the three measures of spontaneous EEG signal diversity showed significantly increased values in the sub-anaesthetic ketamine condition. This increase in signal diversity also correlated with subjective assessment of altered states of consciousness. Moreover, spontaneous signal diversity was significantly higher when participants had eyes open compared to eyes closed, both during normal wakefulness and during influence of sub-anaesthetic ketamine doses. Conclusion The results suggest that PCI and spontaneous signal diversity may be complementary and potentially measure different aspects of consciousness. Thus, our results seem compatible with PCI being indicative of the brain’s ability to sustain consciousness, as indicated by previous research, while it is possible that spontaneous EEG signal diversity may be indicative of the complexity of conscious content. The observed sensitivity of the latter measures to visual input seems to support such an interpretation. Thus, sub-anaesthetic ketamine may increase the complexity of both the conscious content (experience) and the brain activity underlying it, while the level, degree, or general capacity of consciousness remains largely unaffected.
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