Analyzing the Loss and the Recovery of Consciousness: Functional Connectivity Patterns and Changes in Heart Rate Variability During Propofol-Induced Anesthesia

Davide Sattin, Dunja Duran, Sergio Visintini, Elena Schiaffi, Ferruccio Panzica, Carla Carozzi, Davide Rossi Sebastiano, Elisa Visani, Eleonora Tobaldini, Angelica Carandina, Valeria Citterio, Francesca Giulia Magnani, Martina Cacciatore, Eleonora Orena, Nicola Montano, Dario Caldiroli, Silvana Franceschetti, Mario Picozzi, Leonardi Matilde

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The analysis of the central and the autonomic nervous systems (CNS, ANS) activities during general anesthesia (GA) provides fundamental information for the study of neural processes that support alterations of the consciousness level. In the present pilot study, we analyzed EEG signals and the heart rate (HR) variability (HRV) in a sample of 11 patients undergoing spinal surgery to investigate their CNS and ANS activities during GA obtained with propofol administration. Data were analyzed during different stages of GA: baseline, the first period of anesthetic induction, the period before the loss of consciousness, the first period after propofol discontinuation, and the period before the recovery of consciousness (ROC). In EEG spectral analysis, we found a decrease in posterior alpha and beta power in all cortical areas observed, except the occipital ones, and an increase in delta power, mainly during the induction phase. In EEG connectivity analysis, we found a significant increase of local efficiency index in alpha and delta bands between baseline and loss of consciousness as well as between baseline and ROC in delta band only and a significant reduction of the characteristic path length in alpha band between the baseline and ROC. Moreover, connectivity results showed that in the alpha band there was mainly a progressive increase in the number and in the strength of incoming connections in the frontal region, while in the beta band the parietal region showed mainly a significant increase in the number and in the strength of outcoming connections values. The HRV analysis showed that the induction of anesthesia with propofol was associated with a progressive decrease in complexity and a consequent increase in the regularity indexes and that the anesthetic procedure determined bradycardia which was accompanied by an increase in cardiac sympathetic modulation and a decrease in cardiac parasympathetic modulation during the induction. Overall, the results of this pilot study showed as propofol-induced anesthesia caused modifications on EEG signal, leading to a “rebalance” between long and short-range cortical connections, and had a direct effect on the cardiac system. Our data suggest interesting perspectives for the interactions between the central and autonomic nervous systems for the modulation of the consciousness level.

Original languageEnglish
Article number652080
JournalFrontiers in Systems Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - Apr 6 2021


  • anesthesia
  • connectivity
  • consciousness
  • heart rate variability
  • propofol

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience (miscellaneous)
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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