Sensory cortices receive inputs not only from thalamus but also from higher-order cortical regions. Here, Zagha et al. (2013) show that motor cortical inputs can switch barrel cortex into a desynchronized state that enables more faithful representation of subtle sensory stimuli.
The activity of neural populations is determined not only by sensory inputs but also by internally-generated patterns. During quiet wakefulness, the brain produces spontaneous firing events which can spread over large areas of cortex, and have been suggested to underlie processes such as memory recall and consolidation. Here we demonstrate a different role for spontaneous activity in sensory cortex: gating of sensory inputs. We show that population activity in rat auditory cortex is composed of transient 50-100ms packets of spiking activity which occur irregularly during silence and sustained tone stimuli, but reliably at tone onset. Population activity within these packets had broadly consistent spatiotemporal structure, but the rate and also precise relative timing of action potentials varied between stimuli. Packet frequency varied with cortical state, with desynchronized state activity consistent with superposition of multiple overlapping packets. We suggest that such packets reflect the sporadic opening of a “gate” that allows auditory cortex to broadcast a representation of external sounds to other brain regions.
Cortical circuits encode sensory stimuli through the firing of neuronal ensembles, and also produce spontaneous population patterns in the absence of sensory drive. This population activity is often characterized experimentally by the distribution of multineuron “words” (binary firing vectors), and a match between spontaneous and evoked word distributions has been suggested to reflect learning of a probabilistic model of the sensory world. We analyzed multineuron word distributions in sensory cortex of anesthetized rats and cats, and found that they are dominated by fluctuations in population firing rate rather than precise interactions between individual units. Furthermore, cortical word distributions change when brain state shifts, and similar behavior is seen in simulated networks with fixed, random connectivity. Our results suggest that similarity or dissimilarity in multineuron word distributions could primarily reflect similarity or dissimilarity in population firing rate dynamics, and not necessarily the precise interactions between neurons that would indicate learning of sensory features.
Cortical responses can vary greatly between repeated presentations of an identical stimulus. Here we report that both trial-to-trial variability and faithfulness of auditory cortical stimulus representations depend critically on brain state. A frozen amplitude-modulated white noise stimulus was repeatedly presented while recording neuronal populations and local field potentials (LFPs) in auditory cortex of urethane-anesthetized rats. An information-theoretic measure was used to predict neuronal spiking activity from either the stimulus envelope or simultaneously recorded LFP. Evoked LFPs and spiking more faithfully followed high-frequency temporal modulations when the cortex was in a “desynchronized” state. In the “synchronized” state, neural activity was poorly predictable from the stimulus envelope, but the spiking of individual neurons could still be predicted from the ongoing LFP. Our results suggest that although auditory cortical activity remains coordinated as a population in the synchronized state, the ability of continuous auditory stimuli to control this activity is greatly diminished.
information theory; auditory system; brain state; desynchronized; synchronized
The new generation of silicon-based multielectrodes comprising hundreds or more electrode contacts offers unprecedented possibilities for simultaneous recordings of spike trains from thousands of neurons. Such data will not only be invaluable for finding out how neural networks in the brain work, but will likely be important also for neural prosthesis applications. This opportunity can only be realized if efficient, accurate and validated methods for automatic spike sorting are provided. In this review we describe some of the challenges that must be met to achieve this goal, and in particular argue for the critical need of realistic model data to be used as ground truth in the validation of spike-sorting algorithms.
Spontaneous activity plays an important role in the function of neural circuits. Although many similarities between spontaneous and sensory-evoked neocortical activity have been reported, little is known about consistent differences between them. Here, using simultaneously recorded cortical populations and morphologically identified pyramidal cells, we compare the laminar structure of spontaneous and sensory-evoked population activity in rat auditory cortex. Spontaneous and evoked patterns both exhibited sparse, spatially localized activity in layer 2/3 pyramidal cells, with densely distributed activity in larger layer 5 pyramidal cells and putative interneurons. However, the propagation of spontaneous and evoked activity differed, with spontaneous activity spreading upward from deep layers and slowly across columns, but sensory responses initiating in presumptive thalamorecipient layers, spreading rapidly across columns. The similarity of sparseness patterns for both neural events, and distinct spread of activity may reflect similarity of local processing, and differences in the flow of information through cortical circuits, respectively.
The responses of neocortical cells to sensory stimuli are variable and state-dependent. It has been hypothesized that intrinsic cortical dynamics play an important role in trial-to-trial variability; the precise nature of this dependence, however, is poorly understood. We show here that in auditory cortex of urethane-anesthetized rats, population responses to click stimuli can be quantitatively predicted on a trial-by-trial basis by a simple dynamical system model estimated from spontaneous activity immediately preceding stimulus presentation. Changes in cortical state correspond consistently to changes in model dynamics, reflecting a nonlinear self-exciting system in synchronized states and an approximately linear system in desynchronized states. We propose that the complex and state-dependent pattern of trial-to-trial variability can be explained by a simple principle: that sensory responses are shaped by the same intrinsic dynamics that govern ongoing spontaneous activity.
cortex; dynamics; state; auditory; dynamical system; variability
Neural representations of even temporally unstructured stimuli can show complex temporal dynamics. In many systems, neuronal population codes show “progressive differentiation,” whereby population responses to different stimuli grow further apart during a stimulus presentation. Here we analyzed the response of auditory cortical populations in rats to extended tones. At onset (up to 300 ms), tone responses involved strong excitation of a large number of neurons; during sustained responses (after 500 ms) overall firing rate decreased, but most cells still showed a statistically significant difference in firing rate. Population vector trajectories evoked by different tone frequencies expanded rapidly along an initially similar trajectory in the first tens of ms after tone onset, later diverging to smaller amplitude fixed points corresponding to sustained responses. The angular difference between onset and sustained responses to the same tone was greater than between different tones in the same stimulus epoch. No clear orthogonalization of responses was found with time, and predictability of the stimulus from population activity also decreased during this period compared to onset. The question of whether population activity grew more or less sparse with time depended on the precise mathematical sense given to this term. We conclude that auditory cortical population responses to tones differ from those reported in many other systems, with progressive differentiation not seen for sustained stimuli. Sustained acoustic stimuli are typically not behaviorally salient: we hypothesize that the dynamics we observe may instead allow an animal to maintain a representation of such sounds, at low energetic cost.
The brain continuously adapts its processing machinery to behavioural demands. To achieve this it rapidly modulates the operating mode of cortical circuits, controlling the way information is transformed and routed. This article will focus on two experimental approaches by which the control of cortical information processing has been investigated: the study of state-dependent cortical processing in rodents, and attention in the primate visual system. Both processes involve a modulation of low-frequency activity fluctuations and spiking correlation, and are mediated by common receptor systems. We suggest that selective attention involves processes similar to state change, operating at a local columnar level to enhance the representation of otherwise nonsalient features while suppressing internally generated activity patterns.
Recordings of single neurons have yielded great insights into the way acoustic stimuli are represented in auditory cortex. However, any one neuron functions as part of a population whose combined activity underlies cortical information processing. Here we review some results obtained by recording simultaneously from auditory cortical populations and individual morphologically identified neurons, in urethane-anesthetized and unanesthetized passively listening rats. Auditory cortical populations produced structured activity patterns both in response to acoustic stimuli, and spontaneously without sensory input. Population spike time patterns were broadly conserved across multiple sensory stimuli and spontaneous events, exhibiting a generally conserved sequential organization lasting approximately 100ms. Both spontaneous and evoked events exhibited sparse, spatially localized activity in layer 2/3 pyramidal cells, and densely distributed activity in larger layer 5 pyramidal cells and putative interneurons. Laminar propagation differed however, with spontaneous activity spreading upward from deep layers and slowly across columns, but sensory responses initiating in presumptive thalamorecipient layers, spreading rapidly across columns. In both unanesthetized and urethanized rats, global activity fluctuated between “desynchronized” state characterized by low amplitude, high-frequency local field potentials and a “synchronized” state of larger, lower-frequency waves. Computational studies suggested that responses could be predicted by a simple dynamical system model fitted to the spontaneous activity immediately preceding stimulus presentation. Fitting this model to the data yielded a nonlinear self-exciting system model in synchronized states and an approximately linear system in desynchronized states. We comment on the significance of these results for auditory cortical processing of acoustic and non-acoustic information.
Cortical circuits spontaneously generate coordinated activity even in the absence of external inputs. The character of this activity depends on cortical state. We investigated how state affects the organization of spontaneous activity across layers of rat auditory cortex in vivo, using juxtacellular recording of morphologically identified neurons and large-scale electrophysiological recordings. Superficial pyramidal cells (PCs) and putative fast-spiking interneurons (FSs) were consistently suppressed during cortical desynchronization. PCs in deep layers showed heterogeneous responses to desynchronization, with some cells showing increased rates, typically large tufted PCs of high baseline firing rate, but not FSs. Consistent results were found between desynchronization occurring spontaneously in unanesthetized animals, and desynchronization evoked by electrical stimulation of the pedunculopontine tegmental (PPT) nucleus under urethane anesthesia. We hypothesize that reduction in superficial layer firing may enhance the brain's extraction of behaviorally relevant signals from noisy brain activity.
sensory cortex; cell-type; cortical circuit; ensemble recording; slow oscillation
During anesthesia, slow-wave sleep and quiet wakefulness, neuronal membrane potentials collectively switch between de- and hyperpolarized levels, the cortical UP and DOWN states. Previous studies have shown that these cortical UP/DOWN states affect the excitability of individual neurons in response to sensory stimuli, indicating that a significant amount of the trial-to-trial variability in neuronal responses can be attributed to ongoing fluctuations in network activity. However, as intracellular recordings are frequently not available, it is important to be able to estimate their occurrence purely from extracellular data. Here, we combine in vivo whole cell recordings from single neurons with multi-site extracellular microelectrode recordings, to quantify the performance of various approaches to predicting UP/DOWN states from the deep-layer local field potential (LFP). We find that UP/ DOWN states in deep cortical layers of rat primary auditory cortex (A1) are predictable from the phase of LFP at low frequencies (< 4 Hz), and that the likelihood of a given state varies sinusoidally with the phase of LFP at these frequencies. We introduce a novel method of detecting cortical state by combining information concerning the phase of the LFP and ongoing multi-unit activity.
UP and DOWN states; LFP; State dependent coding; Neural coding; Spontaneous activity; Neural oscillations
We report the crystal structure of the 5-residue peptide acetyl-YEQGL-amide, determined directly from powder X-ray diffraction data recorded on a conventional laboratory X-ray powder diffractometer. The YEQGL motif has a known biological role, as a trafficking motif in the C-terminus of mammalian P2X4 receptors. Comparison of the crystal structure of acetyl-YEQGL-amide determined here and that of a complex formed with the μ2 subunit of the clathrin adaptor protein complex AP2 reported previously, reveals differences in conformational properties, although there are nevertheless similarities concerning aspects of the hydrogen-bonding arrangement and the hydrophobic environment of the leucine sidechain. Our results demonstrate the potential for exploiting modern powder X-ray diffraction methodology to achieve complete structure determination of materials of biological interest that do not crystallize as single crystals of suitable size and quality for single-crystal X-ray diffraction.
γ-Abu, γ-aminobutyric acid; AP2, clathrin adaptor protein complex 2; CD, circular dichroism spectrometry; Piv, pivaloyl; Φ, any hydrophobic amino acid; P2X; Powder X-ray diffraction; Trafficking; Direct-space structure solution; Genetic algorithm; Structure determination
Neocortical assemblies produce complex activity patterns both in response to sensory stimuli, and spontaneously without sensory input. To investigate the structure of these patterns, we recorded from populations of 40–100 neurons in auditory and somatosensory cortices of anesthetized and awake rats using silicon microelectrodes. Population spike time patterns were broadly conserved across multiple sensory stimuli and spontaneous events. Although individual neurons showed timing variations between stimuli, these were not sufficient to disturb a generally conserved sequential organization observed at the population level, lasting for approximately 100ms with spiking reliability decaying progressively after event onset. Preserved constraints were also seen in population firing rate vectors, with vectors evoked by individual stimuli occupying subspaces of a larger but still constrained space outlined by the set of spontaneous events. These results suggest that population spike patterns are drawn from a limited “vocabulary,” sampled widely by spontaneous events but more narrowly by sensory responses.
Correlated spiking is often observed in cortical circuits, but its functional role is controversial. It is believed that correlations are a consequence of shared inputs between nearby neurons and could severely constrain information decoding. Here we show theoretically that recurrent neural networks can generate an asynchronous state characterized by arbitrarily low mean spiking correlations despite substantial amounts of shared input. In this state, spontaneous fluctuations in the activity of excitatory and inhibitory populations accurately track each other, generating negative correlations in synaptic currents which cancel the effect of shared input. Near-zero mean correlations were seen experimentally in recordings from rodent neocortex in vivo. Our results suggest a re-examination of the sources underlying observed correlations and their functional consequences for information processing.
High-frequency cortical activity in humans and animals has been linked to a wide variety of higher cognitive processes. This research suggests that specific changes in neuronal synchrony occur during cognitive processing, distinguished by emergence of fast oscillations in the gamma frequency range. To determine whether the development of high-frequency brain oscillations can be related to the development of cognitive abilities, we studied the power spectra of resting EEG in children 16, 24 and 36 months of age. Individual differences in the distribution of frontal gamma power during rest were highly correlated with concurrent language and cognitive skills at all ages. Gamma power was also associated with attention measures; children who were observed as having better inhibitory control and more mature attention shifting abilities had higher gamma power density functions. We included a group of children with a family history of language impairment (FH+) and thus at higher risk for language disorders. FH+ children, as a group, showed consistently lower gamma over frontal regions than the well-matched FH- controls with no such family history (FH-). We suggest that the emergence of high frequency neural synchrony may be critical for cognitive and linguistic development, and that children at risk for language impairments may lag in this process.
language; cognitive development; resting EEG; gamma power; attention
In rodent hippocampus, neuronal activity is organized by a 6 –10 Hz theta oscillation. The spike timing of hippocampal pyramidal cells with respect to the theta rhythm correlates with an animal's position in space. This correlation has been suggested to indicate an explicit temporal code for position. Alternatively, it may be interpreted as a byproduct of theta-dependent dynamics of spatial information flow in hippocampus. Here we show that place cell activity on different phases of theta reflects positions shifted into the future or past along the animal's trajectory in a two-dimensional environment. The phases encoding future and past positions are consistent across recorded CA1 place cells, indicating a coherent representation at the network level. Consistent theta-dependent time offsets are not simply a consequence of phase-position correlation (phase precession), because they are no longer seen after data randomization that preserves the phase-position relationship. The scale of these time offsets, 100 –300 ms, is similar to the latencies of hippocampal activity after sensory input and before motor output, suggesting that offset activity may maintain coherent brain activity in the face of information processing delays.
hippocampus; place cells; theta oscillation; phase precession; temporal coding; response latency