Reduced variability of ongoing and evoked cortical activity leads to improved behavioral performance.
ABSTRACT: Sensory responses of the brain are known to be highly variable, but the origin and functional relevance of this variability have long remained enigmatic. Using the variable foreperiod of a visual discrimination task to assess variability in the primate cerebral cortex, we report that visual evoked response variability is not only tied to variability in ongoing cortical activity, but also predicts mean response time. We used cortical local field potentials, simultaneously recorded from widespread cortical areas, to gauge both ongoing and visually evoked activity. Trial-to-trial variability of sensory evoked responses was strongly modulated by foreperiod duration and correlated both with the cortical variability before stimulus onset as well as with response times. In a separate set of experiments we probed the relation between small saccadic eye movements, foreperiod duration and manual response times. The rate of eye movements was modulated by foreperiod duration and eye position variability was positively correlated with response times. Our results indicate that when the time of a sensory stimulus is predictable, reduction in cortical variability before the stimulus can improve normal behavioral function that depends on the stimulus.
Project description:Typical responses of cortical neurons to identical sensory stimuli appear highly variable. It has thus been proposed that the cortex primarily uses a rate code. However, other studies have argued for spike-time coding under certain conditions. The potential role of spike-time coding is directly limited by the internally generated variability of cortical circuits, which remains largely unexplored. Here, we quantify this internally generated variability using a biophysical model of rat neocortical microcircuitry with biologically realistic noise sources. We find that stochastic neurotransmitter release is a critical component of internally generated variability, causing rapidly diverging, chaotic recurrent network dynamics. Surprisingly, the same nonlinear recurrent network dynamics can transiently overcome the chaos in response to weak feed-forward thalamocortical inputs, and support reliable spike times with millisecond precision. Our model shows that the noisy and chaotic network dynamics of recurrent cortical microcircuitry are compatible with stimulus-evoked, millisecond spike-time reliability, resolving a long-standing debate.
Project description:Neuronal responses to sensory stimuli are not only driven by feedforward sensory pathways but also depend upon intrinsic factors (collectively known as the network state) that include ongoing spontaneous activity and neuromodulation. To understand how these factors together regulate cortical dynamics, we recorded simultaneously spontaneous and somatosensory-evoked multiunit activity from primary somatosensory cortex and from the locus coeruleus (LC) (the neuromodulatory nucleus releasing norepinephrine) in urethane-anesthetized rats. We found that bursts of ipsilateral-LC firing preceded by few tens of milliseconds increases of cortical excitability, and that the 1- to 10-Hz rhythmicity of LC discharge appeared to increase the power of delta-band (1-4 Hz) cortical synchronization. To investigate quantitatively how LC firing might causally influence spontaneous and stimulus-driven cortical dynamics, we then constructed and fitted to these data a model describing the dynamical interaction of stimulus drive, ongoing synchronized cortical activity, and noradrenergic neuromodulation. The model proposes a coupling between LC and cortex that can amplify delta-range cortical fluctuations, and shows how suitably timed phasic LC bursts can lead to enhanced cortical responses to weaker stimuli and increased temporal precision of cortical stimulus-evoked responses. Thus, the temporal structure of noradrenergic modulation may selectively and dynamically enhance or attenuate cortical responses to stimuli. Finally, using the model prediction of single-trial cortical stimulus-evoked responses to discount single-trial state-dependent variability increased by ∼70% the sensory information extracted from cortical responses. This suggests that downstream circuits may extract information more effectively after estimating the state of the circuit transmitting the sensory message.
Project description:Spontaneous waves of activity propagating across large cortical areas may play important roles in sensory processing and circuit refinement. However, whether these waves are in turn shaped by sensory experience remains unclear. Here we report that visually evoked cortical activity reverberates in subsequent spontaneous waves. Voltage-sensitive dye imaging in rat visual cortex shows that following repetitive presentation of a given visual stimulus, spatiotemporal activity patterns resembling the evoked response appear more frequently in the spontaneous waves. This effect is specific to the response pattern evoked by the repeated stimulus, and it persists for several minutes without further visual stimulation. Such wave-mediated reverberation could contribute to short-term memory and help to consolidate the transient effects of recent sensory experience into long-lasting cortical modifications.
Project description:Much of what is known about the contribution of inhibition to stimulus discrimination is due to extensively studied sensory systems, which are highly structured neural circuits. The effect of inhibition on stimulus representation in less structured networks is not as clear. Here we exercise a biosynthetic approach in order to study the impacts of inhibition on stimulus representation in non-specialized network anatomy. Combining pharmacological manipulation, multisite electrical stimulation and recording from ex-vivo randomly rewired networks of cortical neurons, we quantified the effects of inhibition on response variability and stimulus discrimination at the population and single unit levels. We find that blocking inhibition quenches variability of responses evoked by repeated stimuli and enhances discrimination between stimuli that invade the network from different spatial loci. Enhanced stimulus discrimination is reserved for representation schemes that are based on temporal relation between spikes emitted in groups of neurons. Our data indicate that - under intact inhibition - the response to a given stimulus is a noisy version of the response evoked in the absence of inhibition. Spatial analysis suggests that the dispersion effect of inhibition is due to disruption of an otherwise coherent, wave-like propagation of activity.
Project description:Peripheral filtering is a fundamental mechanism for establishing frequency tuning in sensory systems. By contrast, detection of temporal features, such as duration, is generally thought to result from temporal coding in the periphery, followed by an analysis of peripheral response times within the central nervous system. We investigated how peripheral filtering properties affect the coding of stimulus duration in the electrosensory system of mormyrid fishes using behavioral and electrophysiological measures of duration tuning. We recorded from individual knollenorgans, the electrosensory receptors that mediate communication, and found correlated variation in frequency tuning and duration tuning, as predicted by a simple circuit model. In response to relatively high intensity stimuli, knollenorgans responded reliably with fixed latency spikes, consistent with a temporal code for stimulus duration. At near-threshold intensities, however, both the reliability and the temporal precision of responses decreased. Evoked potential recordings from the midbrain, as well as behavioral responses to electrosensory stimulation, revealed changes in sensitivity across the range of durations associated with the greatest variability in receptor sensitivity. Further, this range overlapped with the natural range of variation in species-specific communication signals, suggesting that peripheral duration tuning affects the coding of behaviorally relevant stimuli. We measured knollenorgan, midbrain and behavioral responses to natural communication signals and found that each of them were duration dependent. We conclude that at relatively low intensities for which temporal coding is ineffective, diversity among sensory receptors establishes a population code, in which duration is reflected in the population of responding knollenorgans.
Project description:In the absence of sensory input, neuronal networks are far from being silent. Whether spontaneous changes in ongoing activity reflect previous sensory experience or stochastic fluctuations in brain activity is not well understood. Here we describe reactivation of stimulus-evoked activity in awake visual cortical networks. We found that continuous exposure to randomly flashed image sequences induces reactivation in macaque V4 cortical networks in the absence of visual stimulation. This reactivation of previously evoked activity is stimulus-specific, occurs only in the same temporal order as the original response, and strengthens with increased stimulus exposures. Importantly, cells exhibiting significant reactivation carry more information about the stimulus than cells that do not reactivate. These results demonstrate a surprising degree of experience-dependent plasticity in visual cortical networks as a result of repeated exposure to unattended information. We suggest that awake reactivation in visual cortex may underlie perceptual learning by passive stimulus exposure.
Project description:Medically unexplained symptoms in depression are common. These individual-specific complaints are often considered an 'idiom of distress', yet animal studies suggest that cortical sensory representations are flexible and influenced by spontaneous cortical activity. We hypothesized that stress would reveal activity dynamics in somatosensory cortex resulting in greater sensory-evoked response variability. Using millisecond resolution in vivo voltage sensitive dye (VSD) imaging in mouse neocortex, we characterized spontaneous regional depolarizations within limb and barrel regions of somatosensory cortex, or spontaneous sensory motifs, and their influence on sensory variability. Stress revealed an idiosyncratic increase in spontaneous sensory motifs that is normalized by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor treatment. Spontaneous motif frequency is associated with increased variability in sensory-evoked responses, and we optogenetically demonstrate that regional depolarization in somatosensory cortex increases sensory-evoked variability for seconds. This reveals a putative circuit level target for changes in sensory processing and for unexplained physical complaints in stress-related psychopathology.
Project description:The cerebral cortex is an anatomically divided and functionally specialized structure. It includes distinct areas, which work on different states over time. The structural features of spiking activity in sensory cortices have been characterized during spontaneous and evoked activity. However, the coordination among cortical and sub-cortical neurons during spontaneous activity across different states remains poorly characterized. We addressed this issue by studying the temporal coupling of spiking variability recorded from primary sensory cortices and hippocampus of anesthetized or freely behaving rats. During spontaneous activity, spiking variability was highly correlated across primary cortical sensory areas at both small and large spatial scales, whereas the cortico-hippocampal correlation was modest. This general pattern of spiking variability was observed under urethane anesthesia, as well as during waking, slow-wave sleep and rapid-eye-movement sleep, and was unchanged by novel stimulation. These results support the notion that primary sensory areas are strongly coupled during spontaneous activity.
Project description:Peripheral neuropathies result in adaptation in primary sensory and other regions of cortex, and provide a framework for understanding the localized and widespread adaptations that arise from altered sensation. Mesoscale cortical imaging achieves high temporal resolution of activity using optical sensors of neuronal activity to simultaneously image across a wide expanse of cortex and capture this adaptation using sensory-evoked and spontaneous cortical activity. Saphenous nerve ligation in mouse is an animal model of peripheral neuropathy that produces hyperalgesia circumscribed to the hindlimb. We performed saphenous nerve ligation or sham, followed by mesoscale cortical imaging using voltage sensitive dye (VSD) after ten days. We utilized subcutaneous electrical stimulation at multiple stimulus intensities to characterize sensory responses after ligation or sham, and acquired spontaneous activity to characterize functional connectivity and large scale cortical network reorganization. Relative to sham animals, the primary sensory-evoked response to hindlimb stimulation in ligated animals was unaffected in magnitude at all stimulus intensities. However, we observed a diminished propagating wave of cortical activity at lower stimulus intensities in ligated animals after hindlimb, but not forelimb, sensory stimulation. We simultaneously observed a widespread decrease in cortical functional connectivity, where midline association regions appeared most affected. These results are consistent with localized and broad alterations in intracortical connections in response to a peripheral insult, with implications for novel circuit level understanding and intervention for peripheral neuropathies and other conditions affecting sensation.
Project description:We discovered that optical stimulation of the mystacial pad in Emx1-Cre;Ai27D transgenic mice induces whisker movements due to activation of ChR2 expressed in muscles controlling retraction and protraction. Using high-speed videography in anesthetized mice, we characterize the amplitude of whisker protractions evoked by varying the intensity, duration, and frequency of optogenetic stimulation. Recordings from primary somatosensory cortex (S1) in anesthetized mice indicated that optogenetic whisker pad stimulation evokes robust yet longer latency responses than mechanical whisker stimulation. In head-fixed mice trained to report optogenetic whisker pad stimulation, psychometric curves showed similar dependence on stimulus duration as evoked whisker movements and S1 activity. Furthermore, optogenetic stimulation of S1 in expert mice was sufficient to substitute for peripheral stimulation. We conclude that whisker protractions evoked by optogenetic activation of whisker pad muscles results in cortical activity and sensory perception, consistent with the coding of evoked whisker movements by reafferent sensory input.