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Non-sinusoidal waveform is emerging as an important feature of neuronal oscillations. However, the role of single cycle shape dynamics in rapidly unfolding brain activity remains unclear. Here, we develop an analytical framework that isolates oscillatory signals from time-series using masked Empirical Mode Decomposition to quantify dynamical changes in the shape of individual cycles (along with amplitude, frequency and phase) using instantaneous frequency. We show how phase-alignment, a process of projecting cycles into a regularly sampled phase-grid space, makes it possible to compare cycles of different durations and shapes. 'Normalised shapes' can then be constructed with high temporal detail whilst accounting for differences in both duration and amplitude. We find that the instantaneous frequency tracks non-sinusoidal shapes in both simulated and real data. Notably, in local field potential recordings of mouse hippocampal CA1, we find that theta oscillations have a stereotyped slow-descending slope in the cycle-wise average, yet exhibiting high variability on a cycle-by-cycle basis. We show how Principal Components Analysis allows identification of motifs of theta cycle waveform that have distinct associations to cycle amplitude, cycle duration and animal movement speed. By allowing investigation into oscillation shape at high temporal resolution, this analytical framework will open new lines of enquiry into how neuronal oscillations support moment-by-moment information processing and integration in brain networks.

Original publication




Journal article


J Neurophysiol

Publication Date



EMD, Instantaneous Frequency, Non-sinusoidal, Oscillations, Waveform Shape