Brain network disintegration during sedation is mediated by the complexity of sparsely connected regions.


The precise mechanism of anaesthetic action on a neural level remains unclear. Recent approaches suggest that anaesthetics attenuate the complexity of interactions (connectivity) however evidence remains insufficient. We used tools from network and information theory to show that, during propofol-induced sedation, a collection of brain regions displayed decreased complexity in their connectivity patterns, especially so if they were sparsely connected. Strikingly, we found that, despite their low connectivity strengths, these regions exhibited an inordinate role in network integration. Their location and connectivity complexity delineated a specific pattern of sparse interactions mainly involving default mode regions while their connectivity complexity during the awake state also correlated with reaction times during sedation signifying its importance as a reliable indicator of the effects of sedation on individuals. Contrary to established views suggesting sedation affects only richly connected brain regions, we propose that suppressed complexity of sparsely connected regions should be considered a critical feature of any candidate mechanistic description for loss of consciousness.