Along most neural pathways, the spike trains transmitted from one neuron to the next are altered. In the process, neurons can either achieve a more efficient stimulus representation, or extract some biologically important stimulus parameter, or succeed at both. We recorded the inputs from single retinal ganglion cells and the outputs from connected lateral geniculate neurons in the macaque to examine how visual signals are relayed from retina to cortex. We found that geniculate neurons re-encoded multiple temporal stimulus features to yield output spikes that carried more information about stimuli than was available in each input spike. The coding transformation of some relay neurons occurred with no decrement in information rate, despite output spike rates that averaged half the input spike rates. This preservation of transmitted information was achieved by the short-term summation of inputs that geniculate neurons require to spike. A reduced model of the retinal and geniculate visual responses, based on two stimulus features and their associated nonlinearities, could account for more than 85% of the total information available in the spike trains and the preserved information transmission. These results apply to neurons operating on a single time-varying input, suggesting that synaptic temporal integration can alter the temporal receptive field properties to create a more efficient representation of visual signals in the thalamus than the retina.
neural coding; synaptic transmission; retinal ganglion cell; information theory; receptive field center; macaque
Thalamic relay cells transmit information from retina to cortex by firing either rapid bursts or tonic trains of spikes. Bursts occur when the membrane voltage is low, as during sleep, because they depend on channels that cannot respond to excitatory input unless they are primed by strong hyperpolarization. Cells fire tonically when depolarized, as during waking. Thus, mode of firing is usually associated with behavioral state. Growing evidence, however, suggests that sensory processing involves both burst and tonic spikes. To ask if visually evoked synaptic responses induce each type of firing, we recorded intracellular responses to natural movies from relay cells and developed methods to map the receptive fields of the excitation and inhibition that the images evoked. In addition to tonic spikes, the movies routinely elicited lasting inhibition from the center of the receptive field that permitted bursts to fire. Therefore, naturally evoked patterns of synaptic input engage dual modes of firing.
The information regarding visual stimulus is encoded in spike trains at the output of retina by retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). Among these, the directional selective cells (DSRGC) are signaling the direction of stimulus motion. DSRGCs' spike trains show accentuated periods of short interspike intervals (ISIs) framed by periods of isolated spikes. Here we use two types of visual stimulus, white noise and drifting bars, and show that short ISI spikes of DSRGCs spike trains are more often correlated to their preferred stimulus feature (that is, the direction of stimulus motion) and carry more information than longer ISI spikes. Firstly, our results show that correlation between stimulus and recorded neuronal response is best at short ISI spiking activity and decrease as ISI becomes larger. We then used grating bars stimulus and found that as ISI becomes shorter the directional selectivity is better and information rates are higher. Interestingly, for the less encountered type of DSRGC, known as ON-DSRGC, short ISI distribution and information rates revealed consistent differences when compared with the other directional selective cell type, the ON-OFF DSRGC. However, these findings suggest that ISI-based temporal filtering integrates a mechanism for visual information processing at the output of retina toward higher stages within early visual system.
Thalamic neurons respond to visual scenes by generating synchronous spike trains on the timescale of 10 – 20 ms that are very effective at driving cortical targets. Here we demonstrate that this synchronous activity contains unexpectedly rich information about fundamental properties of visual stimuli. We report that the occurrence of synchronous firing of cat thalamic cells with highly overlapping receptive fields is strongly sensitive to the orientation and the direction of motion of the visual stimulus. We show that this stimulus selectivity is robust, remaining relatively unchanged under different contrasts and temporal frequencies (stimulus velocities). A computational analysis based on an integrate-and-fire model of the direct thalamic input to a layer 4 cortical cell reveals a strong correlation between the degree of thalamic synchrony and the nonlinear relationship between cortical membrane potential and the resultant firing rate. Together, these findings suggest a novel population code in the synchronous firing of neurons in the early visual pathway that could serve as the substrate for establishing cortical representations of the visual scene.
The lateral geniculate nucleus is the best understood thalamic relay and serves as a model for all thalamic relays. Only 5-10% of the input to geniculate relay cells derives from the retina, which is the driving input. The rest is modulatory and derives from local inhibitory inputs, descending inputs from layer 6 of the visual cortex, and ascending inputs from the brainstem. These modulatory inputs control many features of retinogeniculate transmission. One such feature is the response mode, burst or tonic, of relay cells, which relates to the attentional demands at the moment. This response mode depends on membrane potential, which is controlled effectively by the modulator inputs. The lateral geniculate nucleus is a first-order relay, because it relays subcortical (i.e. retinal) information to the cortex for the first time. By contrast, the other main thalamic relay of visual information, the pulvinar region, is largely a higher-order relay, since much of it relays information from layer 5 of one cortical area to another. All thalamic relays receive a layer-6 modulatory input from cortex, but higher-order relays in addition receive a layer-5 driver input. Corticocortical processing may involve these corticothalamocortical 're-entry' routes to a far greater extent than previously appreciated. If so, the thalamus sits at an indispensable position for the modulation of messages involved in corticocortical processing.
In the hippocampus and the neocortex, the coupling between local field potential (LFP) oscillations and the spiking of single neurons can be highly precise, across neuronal populations and cell types. Spike phase (i.e., the spike time with respect to a reference oscillation) is known to carry reliable information, both with phase-locking behavior and with more complex phase relationships, such as phase precession. How this precision is achieved by neuronal populations, whose membrane properties and total input may be quite heterogeneous, is nevertheless unknown. In this note, we investigate a simple mechanism for learning precise LFP-to-spike coupling in feed-forward networks – the reliable, periodic modulation of presynaptic firing rates during oscillations, coupled with spike-timing dependent plasticity. When oscillations are within the biological range (2–150 Hz), firing rates of the inputs change on a timescale highly relevant to spike-timing dependent plasticity (STDP). Through analytic and computational methods, we find points of stable phase-locking for a neuron with plastic input synapses. These points correspond to precise phase-locking behavior in the feed-forward network. The location of these points depends on the oscillation frequency of the inputs, the STDP time constants, and the balance of potentiation and de-potentiation in the STDP rule. For a given input oscillation, the balance of potentiation and de-potentiation in the STDP rule is the critical parameter that determines the phase at which an output neuron will learn to spike. These findings are robust to changes in intrinsic post-synaptic properties. Finally, we discuss implications of this mechanism for stable learning of spike-timing in the hippocampus.
spike-timing dependent plasticity; oscillations; phase-locking; stable learning; stability of neuronal plasticity; place fields
Spike trains from neurons in the basal ganglia of parkinsonian primates show increased pairwise correlations, oscillatory activity, and burst rate compared to those from neurons recorded during normal brain activity. However, it is not known how these changes affect the behavior of downstream thalamic neurons. To understand how patterns of basal ganglia population activity may affect thalamic spike statistics, we study pairs of model thalamocortical (TC) relay neurons receiving correlated inhibitory input from the internal segment of the globus pallidus (GPi), a primary output nucleus of the basal ganglia. We observe that the strength of correlations of TC neuron spike trains increases with the GPi correlation level, and bursty firing patterns such as those seen in the parkinsonian GPi allow for stronger transfer of correlations than do firing patterns found under normal conditions. We also show that the T-current in the TC neurons does not significantly affect correlation transfer, despite its pronounced effects on spiking. Oscillatory firing patterns in GPi are shown to affect the timescale at which correlations are best transferred through the system. To explain this last result, we analytically compute the spike count correlation coefficient for oscillatory cases in a reduced point process model. Our analysis indicates that the dependence of the timescale of correlation transfer is robust to different levels of input spike and rate correlations and arises due to differences in instantaneous spike correlations, even when the long timescale rhythmic modulations of neurons are identical. Overall, these results show that parkinsonian firing patterns in GPi do affect the transfer of correlations to the thalamus.
correlation; basal ganglia; Parkinson's disease; synchrony; thalamus; bursting; oscillations; point process
Relay cells in the mammalian lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) are driven primarily by single retinal ganglion cells (RGCs). However, an LGN cell responds typically to less than half of the spikes it receives from the RGC that drives it, and without retinal drive the LGN is silent (Kaplan and Shapley, 1984). Recent studies, which used stimuli restricted to the receptive field (RF) center, show that despite the great loss of spikes, more than half of the information carried by the RGC discharge is typically preserved in the LGN discharge (Sincich et al., 2009), suggesting that the retinal spikes that are deleted by the LGN carry less information than those that are transmitted to the cortex. To determine how LGN relay neurons decide which retinal spikes to respond to, we recorded extracellularly from the cat LGN relay cell spikes together with the slow synaptic (‘S’) potentials that signal the firing of retinal spikes. We investigated the influence of the inhibitory surround of the LGN RF by stimulating the eyes with spots of various sizes, the largest of which covered the center and surround of the LGN relay cell's RF. We found that for stimuli that activated mostly the RF center, each LGN spike delivered more information than the retinal spike, but this difference was reduced as stimulus size increased to cover the RF surround. To evaluate the optimality of the LGN editing of retinal spikes, we created artificial spike trains from the retinal ones by various deletion schemes. We found that single LGN cells transmitted less information than an optimal detector could.
retina; information transmission; thalamus; stimulus size
This study examines the rules governing the transfer of spikes between the retina and LGN with the goal of determining whether the most informative retinal spikes preferentially drive LGN responses and what role spike timing plays in the process. By recording from monosynaptically-connected pairs of retinal ganglion cells and LGN neurons in vivo in the cat, we show that relayed spikes are more likely than non-relayed spikes to be evoked by stimuli that match the recorded cells’ receptive fields and that an interspike interval (ISI)-based mechanism contributes to the process. Relayed spikes are also more reliable in their timing and number where they often achieve the theoretical limit of minimum variance. As a result, relayed spikes carry more visual information per spike. Based on these results, we conclude that retinogeniculate processing increases sparseness in the neural code by selectively relaying the highest fidelity spikes to the visual cortex.
coding; retina; LGN; retinal ganglion cell; receptive field; cat
Neuronal oscillations appear throughout the nervous system, in structures as diverse as the cerebral cortex, hippocampus, subcortical nuclei and sense organs. Whether neural rhythms contribute to normal function, are merely epiphenomena, or even interfere with physiological processing are topics of vigorous debate. Sensory pathways are ideal for investigation of oscillatory activity because their inputs can be defined. Thus, we will focus on sensory systems as we ask how neural oscillations arise and how they might encode information about the stimulus. We will highlight recent work in the early visual pathway that shows how oscillations can multiplex different types of signals to increase the amount of information that spike trains encode and transmit. Last, we will describe oscillation-based models of visual processing and explore how they might guide further research.
LGN; retina; visual coding; oscillations; multiplexing
Thalamic firing synchrony is thought to ensure selective transmission of relevant sensory information to the recipient cortical neurons by rendering them more responsive to temporally correlated input spikes. However, direct evidence for a synchrony code in the thalamus is limited. Here, we directly measure thalamic firing synchrony and its stimulus-induced modulation over time, using simultaneous single unit recordings from individual thalamic barreloids in the rat somatosensory whisker/barrel system. Employing whisker deflections varying in velocity or frequency and a cross-correlation approach, we find systematic changes in both time-course and strength of thalamic firing synchrony as a function of stimulus parameters and sensory adaptation. Synchrony develops faster and is greater with higher velocity deflections. Greater firing synchrony reflects stimulus-dependent increases in instantaneous firing rates, greater spike time precision relative to stimulus onset as well as common input that likely arises from divergent trigeminothalamic and corticothalamic neurons. With adaptation, synchrony decreases and takes longer to develop but is more dependent on the cells’ common inputs. Rapid, sharp increases in thalamic synchrony mirroring quick increases in whisker velocity occur also during ongoing random, high-frequency whisker vibrations. Together, results demonstrate millisecond by millisecond changes in thalamic near-synchronous firing during complex patterns of ongoing vibrissa movements that may ensure transmission of preferred sensory information in local thalamocortical circuits during whisking and active touch.
thalamocortical; firing synchrony; somatosensory; barreloid; barrel cortex; whiskers
A train of action potentials (a spike train) can carry information in both the average firing rate and the pattern of spikes in the train. But can such a spike-pattern code be supported by cortical circuits? Neurons in vitro produce a spike pattern in response to the injection of a fluctuating current. However, cortical neurons in vivo are modulated by local oscillatory neuronal activity and by top-down inputs. In a cortical circuit, precise spike patterns thus reflect the interaction between internally generated activity and sensory information encoded by input spike trains. We review the evidence for precise and reliable spike timing in the cortex and discuss its computational role.
The receptive fields of cells in the lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN) are shaped by their diverse set of impinging inputs: feedforward synaptic inputs stemming from retina, and feedback inputs stemming from the visual cortex and the thalamic reticular nucleus. To probe the possible roles of these feedforward and feedback inputs in shaping the temporal receptive-field structure of LGN relay cells, we here present and investigate a minimal mechanistic firing-rate model tailored to elucidate their disparate features. The model for LGN relay ON cells includes feedforward excitation and inhibition (via interneurons) from retinal ON cells and excitatory and inhibitory (via thalamic reticular nucleus cells and interneurons) feedback from cortical ON and OFF cells. From a general firing-rate model formulated in terms of Volterra integral equations, we derive a single delay differential equation with absolute delay governing the dynamics of the system. A freely available and easy-to-use GUI-based MATLAB version of this minimal mechanistic LGN circuit model is provided. We particularly investigate the LGN relay-cell impulse response and find through thorough explorations of the model’s parameter space that both purely feedforward models and feedback models with feedforward excitation only, can account quantitatively for previously reported experimental results. We find, however, that the purely feedforward model predicts two impulse response measures, the time to first peak and the biphasic index (measuring the relative weight of the rebound phase) to be anticorrelated. In contrast, the models with feedback predict different correlations between these two measures. This suggests an experimental test assessing the relative importance of feedforward and feedback connections in shaping the impulse response of LGN relay cells.
LGN; Mechanistic; Rate model; Thalamocortical; Corticothalamic; Feedback; Feedforward; Impulse response
The ability to encode noxious stimulus intensity is essential for the neural processing of pain perception. It is well accepted that the intensity information is transmitted within both sensory and affective pathways. However, it remains unclear what the encoding patterns are in the thalamocortical brain regions, and whether the dual pain systems share similar responsibility in intensity coding.
Multichannel single-unit recordings were used to investigate the activity of individual neurons and neuronal ensembles in the rat brain following the application of noxious laser stimuli of increasing intensity to the hindpaw. Four brain regions were monitored, including two within the lateral sensory pain pathway, namely, the ventral posterior lateral thalamic nuclei and the primary somatosensory cortex, and two in the medial pathway, namely, the medial dorsal thalamic nuclei and the anterior cingulate cortex. Neuron number, firing rate, and ensemble spike count codings were examined in this study. Our results showed that the noxious laser stimulation evoked double-peak responses in all recorded brain regions. Significant correlations were found between the laser intensity and the number of responsive neurons, the firing rates, as well as the mass spike counts (MSCs). MSC coding was generally more efficient than the other two methods. Moreover, the coding capacities of neurons in the two pathways were comparable.
This study demonstrated the collective contribution of medial and lateral pathway neurons to the noxious intensity coding. Additionally, we provide evidence that ensemble spike count may be the most reliable method for coding pain intensity in the brain.
Laser; Intensity; Pain; Single unit; Ensemble encoding
An unusual feature of the cerebellar cortex is that its output neurons, Purkinje cells, are GABAergic. Their high intrinsic firing rates1 (50 Hz) and extensive convergence2,3 predict that that target neurons in the cerebellar nuclei would be largely inhibited unless Purkinje cells pause their spiking, yet Purkinje and nuclear neuron firing rates do not always vary inversely4. A potential clue to how these synapses transmit information is that populations of Purkinje neurons synchronize their spikes during cerebellar behaviors5–11. If nuclear neurons respond to Purkinje synchrony, they may encode signals from subsets of inhibitory inputs7,12–14. Here we show in weanling and adult mice that nuclear neurons transmit the timing of synchronous Purkinje afferent spikes, owing to modest Purkinje-to-nuclear convergence ratios (~40:1), fast IPSC kinetics (τdecay=2.5 ms), and high intrinsic firing rates (~90 Hz). In vitro, dynamically clamped asynchronous IPSPs mimicking Purkinje afferents suppress nuclear cell spiking, whereas synchronous IPSPs entrain nuclear cell spiking. With partial synchrony, nuclear neurons time-lock their spikes to the synchronous subpopulation of inputs, even when only 2 of 40 afferents synchronize. In vivo, nuclear neurons reliably phase-lock to regular trains of molecular layer stimulation. Thus, cerebellar nuclear neurons can preferentially relay the spike timing of synchronized Purkinje cells to downstream premotor areas.
Propofol is a widely used intravenous general anesthetic. Propofol-induced unconsciousness in humans is associated with inhibition of thalamic activity evoked by somatosensory stimuli. However, the cellular mechanisms underlying the effects of propofol in thalamic circuits are largely unknown. We investigated the influence of propofol on synaptic responsiveness of thalamocortical relay neurons in the ventrobasal complex (VB) to excitatory input in mouse brain slices, using both current- and voltage-clamp recording techniques. Excitatory responses including EPSP temporal summation and action potential firing were evoked in VB neurons by electrical stimulation of corticothalamic fibers or pharmacological activation of glutamate receptors. Propofol (0.6 – 3 μM) suppressed temporal summation and spike firing in a concentration-dependent manner. The thalamocortical suppression was accompanied by a marked decrease in both EPSP amplitude and input resistance, indicating that a shunting mechanism was involved. The propofol-mediated thalamocortical suppression could be blocked by a GABAA receptor antagonist or chloride channel blocker, suggesting that postsynaptic GABAA receptors in VB neurons were involved in the shunting inhibition. GABAA receptor-mediated inhibitory postsynaptic currents (IPSCs) were evoked in VB neurons by electrical stimulation of the reticular thalamic nucleus. Propofol markedly increased amplitude, decay time, and charge transfer of GABAA IPSCs. The results demonstrated that shunting inhibition of thalamic somatosensory relay neurons by propofol at clinically relevant concentrations is primarily mediated through the potentiation of the GABAA receptor chloride channel-mediated conductance, and such inhibition may contribute to the impaired thalamic responses to sensory stimuli seen during propofol-induced anesthesia.
The timing of action potentials in spiking neurons depends on the temporal dynamics of their inputs and contains information about temporal fluctuations in the stimulus. Leaky integrate-and-fire neurons constitute a popular class of encoding models, in which spike times depend directly on the temporal structure of the inputs. However, optimal decoding rules for these models have only been studied explicitly in the noiseless case. Here, we study decoding rules for probabilistic inference of a continuous stimulus from the spike times of a population of leaky integrate-and-fire neurons with threshold noise. We derive three algorithms for approximating the posterior distribution over stimuli as a function of the observed spike trains. In addition to a reconstruction of the stimulus we thus obtain an estimate of the uncertainty as well. Furthermore, we derive a ‘spike-by-spike’ online decoding scheme that recursively updates the posterior with the arrival of each new spike. We use these decoding rules to reconstruct time-varying stimuli represented by a Gaussian process from spike trains of single neurons as well as neural populations.
Bayesian decoding; population coding; spiking neurons; approximate inference
Neuronal discharge is driven by either synaptic input or cell-autonomous intrinsic pacemaker activity. It is commonly assumed that the resting spike activity of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), the output cells of the retina, is driven synaptically, because retinal photoreceptors and second-order cells tonically release neurotransmitter. Here we show that ON and OFF RGCs generate maintained activity through different mechanisms: ON cells depend on tonic excitatory input to drive resting activity, whereas OFF cells continue to fire in the absence of synaptic input. In addition to spontaneous activity, OFF cells exhibit other properties of pacemaker neurons, including subthreshold oscillations, burst firing, and rebound excitation. Thus, variable weighting of synaptic mechanisms and intrinsic properties underlies differences in the generation of maintained activity in these parallel retinal pathways.
spontaneous activity; dendrites; retinal ganglion cell; light; pacemaker; receptive field
In many sensory systems, latency of spike responses of individual neurons is found to be tuned for stimulus features. Whether the spike latency tuning is simply relayed along sensory ascending pathways or generated by local circuits remains unclear. Here, in vivo whole-cell recordings from rat auditory cortical neurons in layer 4 revealed that the onset latency of their aggregate thalamic input exhibited nearly flat tuning for sound frequency, whereas their spike latency tuning is much sharper with a broadly expanded dynamic range. This suggests that the spike latency tuning is not simply inherited from the thalamus, but can be largely reconstructed by local circuits in the cortex. Dissecting of thalamocortical circuits and neural modeling further revealed that broadly tuned intracortical inhibition prolongs the integration time for spike generation preferentially at off-optimal frequencies, while sharply tuned intracortical excitation shortens it selectively at the optimal frequency. Such push and pull mechanisms mediated likely by feedforward excitatory and inhibitory inputs respectively greatly sharpen the spike latency tuning and expand its dynamic range. The modulation of integration time by thalamocortical-like circuits may represent an efficient strategy for converting information spatially coded in synaptic strength to temporal representation.
spike latency tuning; frequency representation; in vivo whole-cell recording; excitatory and inhibitory synaptic input; thalamocortical circuit
A canonical feedforward circuit is proposed to underlie sensory cortical responses with balanced excitation and inhibition in layer 4 (L4). However, in another input layer, L6, sensory responses and the underlying synaptic circuits remain largely unclear. Here, cell-attached recordings in rat primary auditory cortex revealed that for the majority of L6 excitatory neurons, tonal stimuli did not drive spike responses, but suppressed spontaneous firings. Whole-cell recordings further revealed that the silencing resulted from tone-evoked strong inhibition arriving earlier than excitation. This pattern of inputs can be attributed to a parallel feedforward circuit with both excitatory and inhibitory inputs disynaptically relayed. In contrast, in the other neurons directly driven by thalamic input, stimuli evoked excitation preceding relatively weak inhibition, resulting in robust spike responses. Thus, the dichotomy of L6 response properties arises from two distinct patterns of excitatory-inhibitory interplay. The parallel circuit module generating preceding inhibition may provide a gating mechanism for conditional corticothalamic feedback.
All visual signals the cortex receives are influenced by the perigeniculate sector (PGN) of the thalamic reticular nucleus, which receives input from relay cells in the lateral geniculate and provides feedback inhibition in return. Relay cells have been studied in quantitative depth; they behave in a roughly linear fashion and have receptive fields with a stereotyped center-surround structure. We know far less about reticular neurons. Qualitative studies indicate they simply pool ascending input to generate non-selective gain control. Yet the perigeniculate is complicated; local cells are densely interconnected and fire lengthy bursts. Thus, we employed quantitative methods to explore the perigeniculate using relay cells as controls. By adapting methods of spike-triggered averaging and covariance analysis for bursts, we identified both first and second order features that build reticular receptive fields. The shapes of these spatiotemporal subunits varied widely; no stereotyped pattern emerged. Companion experiments showed that the shape of the first but not second order features could be explained by the overlap of On and Off inputs to a given cell. Moreover, we assessed the predictive power of the receptive field and how much information each component subunit conveyed. Linear-non-linear (LN) models including multiple subunits performed better than those made with just one; further each subunit encoded different visual information. Model performance for reticular cells was always lesser than for relay cells, however, indicating that reticular cells process inputs non-linearly. All told, our results suggest that the perigeniculate encodes diverse visual features to selectively modulate activity transmitted downstream.
LGN; TRN; inhibition; receptive field; thalamus
Neuronal responses to ongoing stimulation in many systems change over time, or “adapt.” Despite the ubiquity of adaptation, its effects on the stimulus information carried by neurons are often unknown. Here we examine how adaptation affects sensory coding in barrel cortex. We used spike-triggered covariance analysis of single-neuron responses to continuous, rapidly varying vibrissa motion stimuli, recorded in anesthetized rats. Changes in stimulus statistics induced spike rate adaptation over hundreds of milliseconds. Vibrissa motion encoding changed with adaptation as follows. In every neuron that showed rate adaptation, the input–output tuning function scaled with the changes in stimulus distribution, allowing the neurons to maintain the quantity of information conveyed about stimulus features. A single neuron that did not show rate adaptation also lacked input–output rescaling and did not maintain information across changes in stimulus statistics. Therefore, in barrel cortex, rate adaptation occurs on a slow timescale relative to the features driving spikes and is associated with gain rescaling matched to the stimulus distribution. Our results suggest that adaptation enhances tactile representations in primary somatosensory cortex, where they could directly influence perceptual decisions.
Neuronal responses to continued stimulation change over time, or “adapt.” Adaptation can be crucial to our brain's ability to successfully represent the environment: for example, when we move from a dim to a bright scene adaptation adjusts neurons' response to a given light intensity, enabling them to be maximally sensitive to the current range of stimulus variations. We analyzed how adaptation affects sensory coding in the somatosensory “barrel” cortex of the rat, which represents objects touched by the rat's whiskers, or vibrissae. Whiskers endow these nocturnal animals with impressive discrimination abilities: a rat can discern differences in texture as fine as we can distinguish using our fingertips. Neurons in the somatosensory cortex represent whisker vibrations by responding to “kinetic features,” particularly velocity fluctuations. We recorded responses of barrel cortex neurons to carefully controlled whisker motion and slowly varied the overall characteristics of the motion to provide a changing stimulus “context.” We found that stimulus–response relationships change in a particular way: the “tuning functions” that predict a neuron's response to fluctuations in whisker motion rescale according to the current stimulus distribution. The rescaling is just enough to maintain the information conveyed by the response about the stimulus.
Cortical neurons adapt their responses to changes in the input statistics of a stimulus, suggesting adaptation enhances stimulus discrimination and perception.
In mammalian basal ganglia-thalamo-cortical circuits, GABAergic pallidal neurons are thought to ‘gate’ or modulate excitation in thalamus with their strong inhibitory inputs, and thus signal to cortex by pausing and permitting thalamic neurons to fire in response to excitatory drive. In contrast, in a homologous circuit specialized for vocal learning in songbirds, evidence suggests that pallidal neurons signal by eliciting postinhibitory rebound spikes in thalamus, which could occur even without any excitatory drive to thalamic neurons. To test whether songbird pallidal neurons can also communicate with thalamus by gating excitatory drive, as well as by postinhibitory rebound, we examined the activity of thalamic relay neurons in response to acute inactivation of the basal ganglia structure Area X; Area X contains the pallidal neurons that project to thalamus. Although inactivation of Area X should eliminate rebound-mediated spiking in thalamus, this manipulation tonically increases the firing rate of thalamic relay neurons, providing evidence that songbird pallidal neurons can gate tonic thalamic excitatory drive. We also found that the increased thalamic activity was fed forward to its target in the avian equivalent of cortex, which includes neurons that project to the vocal premotor area. These data raise the possibility that basal ganglia circuits can signal to cortex through thalamus both by generating postinhibitory rebound and by gating excitatory drive, and may switch between these modes depending on the statistics of pallidal firing. Moreover, these findings provide insight into the strikingly different disruptive effects of basal ganglia and ‘cortical’ lesions on songbird vocal learning.
Basal ganglia; Thalamus; Songbird; Gating; Rebound; GABAergic
In many cases, neurons process information carried by the precise timings of spikes. Here we show how neurons can learn to generate specific temporally precise output spikes in response to input patterns of spikes having precise timings, thus processing and memorizing information that is entirely temporally coded, both as input and as output. We introduce two new supervised learning rules for spiking neurons with temporal coding of information (chronotrons), one that provides high memory capacity (E-learning), and one that has a higher biological plausibility (I-learning). With I-learning, the neuron learns to fire the target spike trains through synaptic changes that are proportional to the synaptic currents at the timings of real and target output spikes. We study these learning rules in computer simulations where we train integrate-and-fire neurons. Both learning rules allow neurons to fire at the desired timings, with sub-millisecond precision. We show how chronotrons can learn to classify their inputs, by firing identical, temporally precise spike trains for different inputs belonging to the same class. When the input is noisy, the classification also leads to noise reduction. We compute lower bounds for the memory capacity of chronotrons and explore the influence of various parameters on chronotrons' performance. The chronotrons can model neurons that encode information in the time of the first spike relative to the onset of salient stimuli or neurons in oscillatory networks that encode information in the phases of spikes relative to the background oscillation. Our results show that firing one spike per cycle optimizes memory capacity in neurons encoding information in the phase of firing relative to a background rhythm.
At the single-neuron level, precisely timed spikes can either constitute firing-rate codes or spike-pattern codes that utilize the relative timing between consecutive spikes. There has been little experimental support for the hypothesis that such temporal patterns contribute substantially to information transmission. By using grasshopper auditory receptors as a model system, we show that correlations between spikes can be used to represent behaviorally relevant stimuli. The correlations reflect the inner structure of the spike train: a succession of burst-like patterns. We demonstrate that bursts with different spike counts encode different stimulus features, such that about 20% of the transmitted information corresponds to discriminating between different features, and the remaining 80% is used to allocate these features in time. In this spike-pattern code, the what and the when of the stimuli are encoded in the duration of each burst and the time of burst onset, respectively. Given the ubiquity of burst firing, we expect similar findings also for other neural systems.
burst spiking; neural code; sensory encoding; information theory; auditory receptor