Letter

Nature 454, 881-885 (14 August 2008) | doi:10.1038/nature07150; Received 27 November 2007; Accepted 6 June 2008; Published online 16 July 2008

Internal brain state regulates membrane potential synchrony in barrel cortex of behaving mice

James F. A. Poulet1 & Carl C. H. Petersen1

  1. Laboratory of Sensory Processing, Brain Mind Institute, Faculty of Life Sciences, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), CH-1015 Lausanne, Switzerland

Correspondence to: Carl C. H. Petersen1 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to C.C.H.P. (Email: carl.petersen@epfl.ch).

Internal brain states form key determinants for sensory perception, sensorimotor coordination and learning1, 2. A prominent reflection of different brain states in the mammalian central nervous system is the presence of distinct patterns of cortical synchrony, as revealed by extracellular recordings of the electroencephalogram, local field potential and action potentials. Such temporal correlations of cortical activity are thought to be fundamental mechanisms of neuronal computation3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11. However, it is unknown how cortical synchrony is reflected in the intracellular membrane potential (V m) dynamics of behaving animals. Here we show, using dual whole-cell recordings from layer 2/3 primary somatosensory barrel cortex in behaving mice, that the V m of nearby neurons is highly correlated during quiet wakefulness. However, when the mouse is whisking, an internally generated state change reduces the V m correlation, resulting in a desynchronized local field potential and electroencephalogram. Action potential activity was sparse during both quiet wakefulness and active whisking. Single action potentials were driven by a large, brief and specific excitatory input that was not present in the V m of neighbouring cells. Action potential initiation occurs with a higher signal-to-noise ratio during active whisking than during quiet periods. Therefore, we show that an internal brain state dynamically regulates cortical membrane potential synchrony during behaviour and defines different modes of cortical processing.

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