The neural correlates of arousal: Ventral posterolateral nucleus-global transient co-activation

Junrong Han, Qiuyou Xie, Xuehai Wu, Zirui Huang, Sean Tanabe, Stuart Fogel, Anthony G. Hudetz, Hang Wu, Georg Northoff, Ying Mao, Sheng He, Pengmin Qin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Arousal and awareness are two components of consciousness whose neural mechanisms remain unclear. Spontaneous peaks of global (brain-wide) blood-oxygenation-level-dependent (BOLD) signal have been found to be sensitive to changes in arousal. By contrasting BOLD signals at different arousal levels, we find decreased activation of the ventral posterolateral nucleus (VPL) during transient peaks in the global signal in low arousal and awareness states (non-rapid eye movement sleep and anesthesia) compared to wakefulness and in eyes-closed compared to eyes-open conditions in healthy awake individuals. Intriguingly, VPL-global co-activation remains high in patients with unresponsive wakefulness syndrome (UWS), who exhibit high arousal without awareness, while it reduces in rapid eye movement sleep, a state characterized by low arousal but high awareness. Furthermore, lower co-activation is found in individuals during N3 sleep compared to patients with UWS. These results demonstrate that co-activation of VPL and global activity is critical to arousal but not to awareness.

Original languageEnglish
Article number113633
JournalCell Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 23 2024


  • CP: Neuroscience
  • arousal
  • fMRI
  • global activity
  • thalamus
  • transient co-activation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Biochemistry,Genetics and Molecular Biology


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