Cortical circuits work through the generation of coordinated, large-scale activity patterns. In sensory systems, the onset of a discrete stimulus usually evokes a temporally organized packet of population activity lasting ∼50–200 ms. The structure of these packets is partially stereotypical, and variation in the exact timing and number of spikes within a packet conveys information about the identity of the stimulus. Similar packets also occur during ongoing stimuli and spontaneously. We suggest that such packets constitute the basic building blocks of cortical coding.
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This work was supported by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) discovery grant (DG) and the NSERC DG Accelerator Supplement to A.L., by the Alberta Innovates Health Solutions Polaris Award (MH46823-16) to B.L.M., as well as by the Wellcome Trust (grant number 95668) and the Simons Foundation (grant number 325512) to K.D.H.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
- Firing-rate coding
A coding scheme in which the features of a stimulus, such as its intensity, are coded by the number of spikes emitted within a specific period of time.
- Network attractors
Activity patterns towards which a recurrent dynamical network evolves over time from a range of different initial conditions.
- Quiet wakefulness
A period of drowsiness in which an animal is not moving and, for relevant species, not whisking.
- Small-world topology
A type of network structure with highly interconnected local nodes and few long-range connections, which results in there being a short path between any two nodes while each node has relatively few connections.
- Spike-time coding
A coding scheme in which information is transmitted by the exact timing of the action potential in reference to a specific event (for example, stimulus onset or spiking of another neuron).
- Spike-timing reliability
A correlation-based measure that quantifies reproducibility of spike trains across trials. It decreases with spike-timing jitter and with spike count variability.
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Luczak, A., McNaughton, B. & Harris, K. Packet-based communication in the cortex. Nat Rev Neurosci 16, 745–755 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nrn4026
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