Background: The phase-amplitude coupling (PAC) between distinct neural oscillations is critical to brain functions that include cross-scale organization, selection of attention, routing the flow of information through neural circuits, memory processing and information coding. Several methods for PAC estimation have been proposed but the limitations of PAC estimation as well as the assumptions about the data for accurate PAC estimation are unclear. New method: We define boundary conditions for standard PAC algorithms and propose "oscillation-triggered coupling" (OTC), a parameter-free, data-driven algorithm for unbiased estimation of PAC. OTC establishes a unified framework that treats individual oscillations as discrete events for estimating PAC from a set of oscillations and for characterizing events from time windows as short as a single modulating oscillation. Results: For accurate PAC estimation, standard PAC algorithms require amplitude filters with a bandwidth at least twice the modulatory frequency. The phase filters must be moderately narrow-band, especially when the modulatory rhythm is non-sinusoidal. The minimally appropriate analysis window is ~10. s. We then demonstrate that OTC can characterize PAC by treating neural oscillations as discrete events rather than continuous phase and amplitude time series. Comparison with existing methods: These findings show that in addition to providing the same information about PAC as the standard approach, OTC facilitates characterization of single oscillations and their sequences, in addition to explaining the role of individual oscillations in generating PAC patterns. Conclusions: OTC allows PAC analysis at the level of individual oscillations and therefore enables investigation of PAC at the time scales of cognitive phenomena.
ASJC Scopus subject areas