Nature Reviews Neuroscience 2, 704-716 (October 2001) | doi:10.1038/35094565

Dynamic predictions: Oscillations and synchrony in top–down processing

Andreas K. Engel1, Pascal Fries2,3 & Wolf Singer4  About the authors


Classical theories of sensory processing view the brain as a passive, stimulus-driven device. By contrast, more recent approaches emphasize the constructive nature of perception, viewing it as an active and highly selective process. Indeed, there is ample evidence that the processing of stimuli is controlled by top–down influences that strongly shape the intrinsic dynamics of thalamocortical networks and constantly create predictions about forthcoming sensory events. We discuss recent experiments indicating that such predictions might be embodied in the temporal structure of both stimulus-evoked and ongoing activity, and that synchronous oscillations are particularly important in this process. Coherence among subthreshold membrane potential fluctuations could be exploited to express selective functional relationships during states of expectancy or attention, and these dynamic patterns could allow the grouping and selection of distributed neuronal responses for further processing.

Author affiliations

  1. Cellular Neurobiology Group, Institute for Medicine, Research Centre Jülich, 52425 Jülich, Germany.
  2. Laboratory of Neuropsychology, National Institute of Mental Health, 9000 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-4415, USA.
  3. Present address:University of Nijmegen and F. C. Donders Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, Adelbertusplein 1, 6525EK Nijmegen, The Netherlands.
  4. Department of Neurophysiology, Max-Planck-Institute for Brain Research, Deutschordenstrasse 46, 60528 Frankfurt, Germany.

Correspondence to: Andreas K. Engel1 Email: