Relating Pupil Diameter and Blinking to Cortical Activity and Hemodynamics across Arousal States

Kevin L. Turner, Kyle W. Gheres, Patrick J. Drew

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Arousal state affects neural activity and vascular dynamics in the cortex, with sleep associated with large changes in the local field potential and increases in cortical blood flow. We investigated the relationship between pupil diameter and blink rate with neural activity and blood volume in the somatosensory cortex in male and female unanesthetized, head-fixed mice. We monitored these variables while the mice were awake, during periods of rapid eye movement (REM), and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Pupil diameter was smaller during sleep than in the awake state. Changes in pupil diameter were coherent with both gamma-band power and blood volume in the somatosensory cortex, but the strength and sign of this relationship varied with arousal state. We observed a strong negative correlation between pupil diameter and both gamma-band power and blood volume during periods of awake rest and NREM sleep, although the correlations between pupil diameter and these signals became positive during periods of alertness, active whisking, and REM. Blinking was associated with increases in arousal and decreases in blood volume when the mouse was asleep. Bilateral coherence in gamma-band power and in blood volume dropped following awake blinking, indicating a reset of neural and vascular activity. Using only eye metrics (pupil diameter and eye motion), we could determine the arousal state of the mouse ('Awake,' 'NREM,' 'REM') with >90% accuracy with a 5 s resolution. There is a strong relationship between pupil diameter and hemodynamics signals in mice, reflecting the pronounced effects of arousal on cerebrovascular dynamics.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Determining arousal state is a critical component of any neuroscience experiment. Pupil diameter and blinking are influenced by arousal state, as are hemodynamics signals in the cortex. We investigated the relationship between cortical hemodynamics and pupil diameter and found that pupil diameter was strongly related to the blood volume in the cortex. Mice were more likely to be awake after blinking than before, and blinking resets neural activity. Pupil diameter and eye motion can be used as a reliable, noninvasive indicator of arousal state. As mice transition from wake to sleep and back again over a timescale of seconds, monitoring pupil diameter and eye motion permits the noninvasive detection of sleep events during behavioral or resting-state experiments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)949-964
Number of pages16
JournalThe Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience
Issue number6
StatePublished - Feb 8 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine(all)


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